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Wisconsin football: the inside linebackers speak to the media

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Still searching for depth behind starters Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn, Bob Bostad has a number of intriguing options looking to step up.

Leo Chenal running off the field at practice.
Kelli Steffes; UW Athletics Communications

We’ve fallen a little bit behind with out spring football media availibility coverage and for that, I am sorry. Our status as the No. 1 Wisconsin Volleyball Blog took precedence since it is tourney time.

The inside linebacker group, led by coach Bob Bostad, spoke to the media on Wednesday after practice. Joining Bostad were players Leo Chenal, Jack Sanborn, Mike Maskalunas, Tatum Grass and Maema Njongmeta.

Njongmeta at practice last week.
Kelli Steffes; UW Athletics Communications

Here are some of the important quotes and insights that we gleaned from the media availability.

Bob Bostad

  • On Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn playing so many snaps, “My philosophy is I’m going to play em until, I want the absolute best player our there on the field, and I’m gonna play em until I can’t.”
  • In regards to managing Chenal’s and Sanborn’s reps, “They have to have enough reps to sharpen the blade, so to speak.”
  • Notes that depth at ILB has been a problem for years.
  • Mentions that Maema Njongmeta is starting to do more things that he was doing in high school that drew UW to offer him. “I’d feel good about him being in that spot, yes.”
  • On Tatum Grass, “He has some higher level physical traits. It was just putting it all together. If you’re going to be an ILB you have to be vocal, you’re making a lot of calls and adjustments.”
  • Malik Reed and Jordan Turner are both out currently, but are “trending up” after some of the early practices.
  • On Sanborn helping out with the younger players, “It’s not a hold on to your secrets type outfit. We let the players answer questions and will add on to things [in meetings] we have quite a few guys who are in that stage of their careers who can help the young guys. We’re trying to help everyone get better.”
  • Bostad wants Sanborn and Chenal to play faster and work with their eyes to recognize pass fit or run fit and to “expand their toolbox” of techniques.

Jack Sanborn

  • Notes that Njongmeta has stood out to him so far. “He’s got an ability to slip his way through traffic which is, sometimes, kind of insane.”
  • Says that Reed has “shown flashes of the play-maker that he could be.”
  • Mentions that he’s working on his pass coverage although he notes that he thinks it has been “pretty decent” since being at UW but wants to make more “game changing plays.”
  • On Jake Chaney, “He’s got a good understanding [of the playbook] right now which is remarkable.”
  • Mentions that maybe after the first two drives against Wake Forest they were a little exhausted. Notes that he wants depth to be improved because it could be helpful on longer drives or against teams that run no-huddle. Chenal, later on, also mentions the beginning of the Wake game as a time where he was tired.
  • On Chenal, “Obviously he’s a physical freak. He’s a great physical, downhill player and I think there are instances where he can be more patient and let the d-line do their thing.

Maema Njongmeta

“I’m healthy now and back in action.”

Njongmeta went through a number of medical issues last season from a hernia to COVID-19 to heart issues to a torn hamstring and I think it’s honestly just best if you hear it straight from him. His answers on his frustrating and scary first season in Madison are the first half of the video. Please don’t mind my stupid face in the upper corner, I had to upload the interview to YouTube because I couldn’t embed it otherwise.

“A situation like that really makes you grateful to practice every day.”

  • “Now it’s just how quickly can I learn everything. I think I’m a quick processor. Now it’s just watching them (Chenal and Sanborn). Just trying to get to the point where coach can trust me.”

Tatum Grass

  • “Gaining that mental confidence with the playbook, that was something that I’d never seen before. Just transitioning into that college football defensive system and learning that playbook, I think I’ve come a long way and just gained that confidence.”
  • “I like to watch [Sanborn and Chenal] while they’re practicing. I like to get in my mental reps and when I get my actual reps I’ve already seen how it’s done.”
Roommates Njongmeta (No. 55) and Grass (No. 39) in practice last week.
Kelli Steffes; UW Athletics Communications

Leo Chenal

  • On what he thinks he can work on, “I know our defense, I know our schemes. There’s always that next step of, now I want to figure out the offense and now I want to be a mastermind of what the offense is doing. So, I think a huge step is just studying the film. Not only studying the defensive plays but knowing what the offense is going to do.”
  • On mid-year enrollee Jake Chaney, “I really love the confidence in Jake (Chaney), it’s kind of unique. Kinda reminds me of a Chris Orr-type character, to be honest. He’s always making jokes. Leading conversations, he’s good at communicating. Compared to when I first got here, I’m really impressed with him. His overall just twitchiness, he’s really quick in that sense. He can really move around in a side-to-side type of way. He’s explosive. But most of all, he’s really picked up on the playbook very well, especially compared to me. I see that confidence in him and he continues to get better.”