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Wisconsin football fall camp 2019: Jim Leonhard interview

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A glimpse into how the defensive coordinator is feeling after 11 fall camp practices.

Monday marked the 11th practice that the Wisconsin football team has had during fall camp. After practice media had the opportunity to speak with coaches from both the offensive and defensive sides of the Badgers coaching staff. Bucky’s 5th Quarter was able to check-in with defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr to get their impressions on what has transpired so far in fall camp. Here is the interview with Leonhard and the interview with Budmayr will run on Wednesday.

Jim Leonhard

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard is entering his fourth year on Paul Chryst’s staff, and his third season with the shared title of the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. As an alumnus of both Wisconsin and the National Football League, he possesses a great deal of knowledge about defense. Leonhard is known for his ability to explain the technical details in a way that is easily digestible to athletes, as well as having a tight bond with his players.

He spoke about a few specific players amongst his defensive unit.

  • Izayah Green-May is a guy that is “mentally understanding what we do, and I think that has translated into confidence,” Leonhard said. “He is playing fast and he is a guy that you definitely notice day in and day out.” Leonhard noted his growth, “last year the desire was there, but the body wasn’t quite there. By the end of the season when we got to bowl prep last year and the light came on. Physically he was getting to a place where he was matching kind where he was at mentally in my mind, and he really took a big step from bowl prep and carried that into the off-season. We saw it in spring ball how he took a big step forward and obviously one more going into fall camp.”
  • Jaylan Franklin is a player that Jim Leonhard sees a lot of what Green-May has become in him, stating “Honestly he is very similar to where Izayah was a year ago. Physically the body is still coming for him, mentally at times struggling. But then you see him come off the edge and he does some things that are special and get you excited. It’s just continuing to push him, every rep is a great rep for him and a learning experience. He has a tremendous burst off the ball and a great energy at practice, and he is willing to work.”
  • Reggie Pearson has been one of the first team safeties so far during fall camp. Leonhard had positive things to say about the redshirt freshman. “Reggie has always been extremely physical, I think the maturity has kicked up tremendously.” Leonhard noted that Pearson “was going to have a role” last season but had “an injury going into week one, and missed about a month of practice.” Leonhard acknowledge that “mentally it was a little bit hard on him,” leading to a redshirt, but “then in the spring he really settled in.” Leonhard continued by saying that Pearson “learned the game, learned what we do, and why we do it” from last year, and that “he is playing really confident right now” in fall camp.
  • Keeanu Benton is a 6-foot-4, 315 pound freshman nose tackle that has been playing with the second team defensive line. Leonhard said “first of all, physically Keeanu is impressive. He’s a little bit of a puppy dog. He’s trying to figure out where his body is at times, but he’s a strong, powerful, athletic kid.” Leonhard continued by saying that he’s “doing some really nice things for us” but that “he’s got to expand his knowledge.”
  • Scott Nelson was another player called out by Leonhard, indicating that “Scott is a pretty natural leader” but that he needs to learn “when to be a little bit more aggressive.” Leonhard continued by saying “he has a great understanding of football, communicates really well. To me it’s just taking that next step in being a playmaker. He’s flashed it at times last year. Really challenged him in physicality and tackling. He struggled early in the season last year tackling and went through an injury. He fought through it for us. We just want to continue to push him lead that group.”
  • C.J. Goetz has made the switch back to outside linebacker, and Leonhard mentioned “we like C.J. and with the right development can find him a role sooner rather than later. I think the move has been good for him. It’s new, but we are definitely excited by his ability.”

Lastly Leonhard touched upon the cornerback position, saying “I think there are more guys playing a little bit more consistent than in the spring. I think everyone from last year has improved, and you see areas of improvement. Competitive situations like [fall camp] just get you to understand who can trust it. Who can trust it when they are tired, who can trust it when the lights are on. These are invaluable reps for those kids, and for the coaches to learn how big of strides they’ve taken.”

Leonhard hopes to “have two guys step forward and solidify those roles” in regards to the cornerback competition, but that “this is the time to compete in camp, our guys understand that. The last five or six practices are the time to showcase where you are at, and compete every day. I’ve liked the approach. There are guys on the rise, there guys that are trending backwards which happens every camp.”