Wisconsin corners grow up in a hurry

MADISON, Wis. -- "Next man in" is a popular catchphrase of the Wisconsin coaching staff. The idea behind it is injuries can happen at any time, so players need to be prepared to step up and play at a moment's notice. 

It happened in 2009 when Chris Borland stepped in for Mike Taylor, and in 2010 when Montee Ball picked up his fellow running backs against Iowa. This year, cornerbacks Marcus Cromartie and Peniel Jean will try to replace Devin Smith, who is out for the season after undergoing foot surgery. Cromartie, for one, thinks he can take this opportunity to improve his game and help the team.

"I know that Devin is going to coach me, and Antonio, and Coach Ash wants me to just keep getting better," Cromartie said after practice Wednesday. "There's not one thing I particularly want to point out. Every aspect of my game I feel like I can get better."

Cromartie also mentioned he feels comfortable stepping into the No. 2 corner spot, opposite Antonio Fenelus, and echoed Bret Bielema's comments about being more mature.

"I think it comes with age," Cromartie said about his maturity level. "I came in at 17, I was a young one, and so three years later it's just part of life. It's about taking accountability for your actions."

Redshirt freshman Peniel Jean is also primed to step into a larger role in the defense. 

"I've been prepared ever since day one," Jean said. "Coach Ash always preaches 'Next Man In,' so [I] practice hard every practice."

The upperclassmen have done their part to help the younger corners improve as well.

"Me and Antonio [Fenelus] go up there one on one and watch every practice, and go through all the individual drills," Jean said. "So he works with me and tells me what I should do."

"It's part of being accountable, coaching up the younger players, and just having them all get better," Cromartie said. "Cause it's not about whether I'm the starter and they're not, it's about just all of us getting better and all of us trying to help the team."

Gilbert becoming more confident

In his Monday press conference, head coach Bret Bielema said he thought junior defensive end David Gilbert was developing a bit of a "killer mentality," and Gilbert acknowledged he had a new mindset from Saturday's game, where he recorded three tackles, a sack, and two quarterback hits. 

"When you're playing D-line at any level, whenever you smell blood in the water it just energizes you and you draw energy from [it]," Gilbert said. "[Bielema] definitely picked up on it at the same time I did, because I smelled that weakness in that tackle, so you just go after him."

"I'm just growing. Growing a lot in myself, growing a lot in my confidence."

Gilbert made sure to mention he wouldn't be as productive without help from his coaches and teammates.

"I just thank God, first of all, for blessing me and putting me in a position where I'm able to make plays, and being on a defense with such great guys that are always willing to help," Gilbert said. "As for my coaches, they've put in a lot of hard work. They've never quit on me, and they coached me hard, so I'm sure they're happy I did well."

News and Notes

-- Defensive coordinator Chris Ash spoke highly of Chandler Harnish, the Huskies' senior dual-threat quarterback. 

"He can run, [and] he can throw," Ash said. "He knows the offense, and he can make plays. He just has great command out there on the field."

Harnish completed 39 of 52 passes this season, to go with a 7-1 touchdown to interception ratio. He's also No. 2 in rushing this year, with 169 yards and 4 rushing touchdowns.

-- Gilbert also gave his opinion about playing against Dave Doeren, who recruited him out of Florida for the Badgers.

"It's definitely a new experience," Gilbert said. "I'm not playing [Doeren] - I'm playing against NIU. He doesn't know us now. He knows the old us."

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For more Badger Football news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter (@JohnVeldhuis).

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