April 14, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- An unsolicited testimonial from the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year -- and one of the most productive linebackers to have ever played the game at Wisconsin -- has raised the bar of expectations for outside linebacker Joe Schobert, who has started just once in his first two college seasons.
"I think he's got the potential to be an All-Big Ten player," said Chris Borland, the first linebacker in school history to be named first-team All-America (2013 Football Writers Association of America). "The (3-4) scheme is perfect for him and his skill set. He's a natural athlete."
Borland, who's biding his time until the NFL draft in early May, was roaming the sidelines during Saturday's intrasquad game at Camp Randall Stadium. There was an even more telling endorsement of Schobert when Borland compared him to BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy, an established playmaker.
"They're similar in size," Borland said of the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Van Noy and the 6-2, 235-pound Schobert. "And they're similar in their low-key demeanor. Both are very smooth in the way they play the game. I do think they resemble one another. Joe has great ball skills."
What Schobert, a junior, doesn't have yet is the Van Noy resume, which is about as complete as one can be. Vay Noy was the only FBS player in 2011 and 2012 to record a statistic in every major defensive category. He fell short this past season when he didn't have a blocked kick or forced fumble.
The 23-year-old Van Noy, a Reno, Nev., native, finished his BYU career with 226 tackles, including 62 TFLs and 26 quarterback sacks. He also had 32 QB hurries and seven interceptions. In 2012, he returned a fumble and an interception for a touchdown in the same game against San Diego State.
Schobert got an up-close look at Van Noy during Wisconsin's 27-17 victory over the Cougars last November at Camp Randall. Borland had 13 tackles, 2.5 TFLs and two sacks; Van Noy had eight tackles, two TFLs and an interception; and Schobert had five tackles, .5 TFLs, and two passes broken up.
To even be mentioned in the same breath with someone as accomplished as Van Noy is flattering to Schobert, who was barely on Wisconsin's radar coming out of Waukesha West High School. It wasn't until late in the recruiting process that the Badgers invited him to walk on.
"That's pretty high praise," he said of the Van Noy comparison. "Kyle was a great player for BYU and I've watched a lot of his film and highlights on YouTube. He's explosive. I like watching his pass rush because he's very nifty with his hands -- getting on and off (offensive) tackles and just making plays."
Schobert is a self-professed college football fan. Moreover, he's a fan of stellar linebacker play. As such, he has enjoyed watching Michigan's Jake Ryan, a 6-3, 230-pound senior. Last spring, Ryan tore his ACL but was still named a team captain and played in eight games with five starts in 2013.
Among the more elite NFL linebackers, Green Bay's Clay Matthews and Denver's Von Miller have been must-see-TV for Schobert. "They're kind of freaks," he said out of respect for their uniqueness as dominant athletes. "But you can still learn from them."
Critiquing both All-Pros, he noted how Matthews "plays so physically and his hand placement and feet are so great" while Miller is `'so explosive." Overall, he said, "They make tackles all the time" which has made an impression with Schobert, a young, still inexperienced student of the game.
"He (Schobert) is in a great situation," Borland said. "He just needs to continue to work the process. Coach (Dave) Aranda is a great coach to play under. He can learn a lot from him. He just needs to grow in that position. Like I said earlier, the role is perfect for him."
At the start of spring practice, Schobert took reps at inside linebacker -- where the Badgers must fill the void left by Borland's departure -- adding to the number of positions that he has played at Wisconsin. He was a wide receiver (No. 8) and a safety (No. 19) before moving to linebacker (No. 58).
"That was great for my overall understanding of the game," Schobert said of his position switch, however temporary. "Just to learn what the inside `backer is doing you know a lot more about what the D-line is doing because you're fitting off them and the safeties are fitting off of you."
|"Obviously, we've had a lot of key players leave," Biegel said, "and even though I'm a young guy, I want to become a vocal leader."
When he was returned to outside linebacker, he said, "I knew what everyone was doing and where my help was and what I can do outside that maybe is not in the job description but, if I can get away with it, I can make more plays." A little knowledge can sometimes go a long way.
"I always think doing more helps you understand the game better," said Borland, the first UW defender to register three 100-plus tackle seasons since Pete Monty in the mid-'90s. "It will probably help him in some regard (to play inside). But his natural spot is outside at F-linebacker."
Schobert likes being on the edge of the defense. "You have to make a read and go, whether it's the A-gap or C-gap," he said of playing inside. "It's a little bit slower (outside); you have one responsibility instead of potentially a couple and there's less congestion, definitely."
He added that the only exception is "on the power when they try to bring everybody towards you and they've got three guys running full speed" in your direction. And that's why he would like to get his weight up to 240 because it would be "easier to hold the edge with more mass."
With more upper body strength, he also said, "I'd be able to hand fight with tackles and tight ends a little better and that's a big thing." Especially since every team on the schedule will feature offensive tackles who weight more than 300 pounds.
In general, Schobert appreciates the versatility that is afforded the F, or Field, linebacker. Schobert got his only career start there last season at Arizona State opposite Brendan Kelly. Borland and Ethan Armstrong were the starters inside against the Sun Devils.
"It's a little bit of everything," Schobert said. "You're dropping into coverage; sometimes playing man to man on tight ends. You're playing the edge of the defense; sometimes you're pass rushing and running stunts inside. You have a lot of freedom to do a lot of things and make a lot of plays."
The reps this spring have been invaluable in terms of his mental conditioning. In the past, he would get on a blocker and he would get tied up while he was thinking how to get off. "Being able to click a little bit faster mentally," he said, "you can play faster physically."
Schobert has clicked with Vince Biegel, the B, or Boundary, linebacker. Together, rushing off the edges of the defense, they should be effective pressuring the quarterback. Biegel and Schobert had 25 and 24 tackles last season, respectively. Both showed promise of developing into playmakers.
"Vince is a real intense guy on game day," Schobert said. "This spring, he's settled down a lot more. He and Jesse (Hayes, also a B `backer) are great to talk to. They're really good at pass rushing and I'd say I'm a little better in coverage from having played safety. It's great to bounce stuff off of them."
Gary Andersen has been encouraged by what he has seen out of Biegel, a redshirt sophomore out of Wisconsin Rapids, and Hayes, a redshirt junior out of Cincinnati. Hayes is the son of former UW assistant Jay Hayes, who's going into his 12th year as the D-line coach for the Bengals of the NFL.
"Jesse is never going to be 270 pounds," Andersen said of the 6-3, 236-pound Hayes. "Because of that, he has to fit into what is best for him. If it was a true 4-3, is he big enough to be a defensive end? He'd still be way undersized. But playing outside linebacker really helps him, like it does Vince."
The 6-4 Biegel would like to put on five more pounds and play at 240 next season.
"My goal this spring was to improve fundamentally and, from a mental standpoint, know the defense overall," Biegel said. "Obviously, we've had a lot of key players leave (through graduation on the defense) and even though I'm a young guy, I want to become a vocal leader."
In order to do so, Biegel said, "I have to solidify myself as a guy that people can count on, a guy that can be an every-down guy -- first, second and third down -- a pass rusher, a linebacker do-it-all. We have a lot of guys trying to improve every single day, not only on the field but in the weight room."
It has led to an esprit de corps among the outside linebackers, which will also include Leon Jacobs in certain sub-packages. This spring, Jacobs has been learning the game from inside out. "We all have a little bit of the competitive spirit and swagger," Biegel said.
That attitude has surfaced throughout the spring and during Saturday's scrimmage. Borland liked how Biegel and Schobert handled themselves, boding well for the perimeter defense. "Vince is just a little bigger, Joe is a little better in space," he said. "They're perfect fits for those B and F spots."
In a sense, he was giving both of them an "A" for being in the right spot at the right time.