In a week where the Wisconsin football team took to the outdoors for the first time this spring on the Camp Randall Stadium grass, the defense was the highlight of Wednesday's late-practice scrimmage.
UW's defense was sporting its new 3-4 package, brought in by first-year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. Pressure on the quarterback is something Aranda is seeking in the system he brought from Utah State, and so far he likes how the defensive front has progressed.
"We're going to have a lot more looks, a lot more pressure, a lot more blitzing and so I think those things are excitable to the guys right now," Aranda said. "We've been able to produce that way the last couple of days and we'll continue that way."
Aranda knew he was adopting a very capable defense -- Wisconsin ranked 17th in the country last year with 19.1 points allowed per game. But he's already proved his system's worth at Utah State, as the Aggies allowed just 15.4 points per game, seventh in college football. He believes his system can add wrinkles to an already potent squad.
"It'll give it a little bit more variety," Aranda said. "I feel that Wisconsin has played great defense and they've had a tradition of it, and it's just a different style of defense."
The new scheme has already generated excitement among the players in the front seven, especially senior defensive lineman Beau Allen, who is making the move to nose tackle on the three-man line.
Allen has been sidelined this spring following ankle surgery to repair a torn ligament, but the 6-foot-3, 333-pound behemoth is excited for the chance to play closer to the ball, a position he relishes in the trenches.
"I'm really excited about it," Allen said. "I've always said I like playing close to the ball. Obviously I haven't gotten reps at it, so I'm kind of waiting for that. I don't think it's going to be too different. Last year when I was playing shade, I'd always shift my alignment down and always play as close as I could because I just like playing there. So, I think it will be nice to just play zero-tech and just play right over the center and get after it."
Allen isn't the only player adjusting to the re-shaped front-seven. Fifth-year senior David Gilbert is jumping from defensive end to linebacker, a common switch that's made when taking one man off of the line.
Although Aranda has had to do a little shuffling, he believes Wisconsin has the perfect players to fit into his system.
"Some of the key components are ideal guys," Aranda said. "A guy like Brendan [Kelly] is an ideal guy. A guy like Beau is an ideal guy for that spot. [Ethan] Hemer is an ideal defensive end in our setup. We've got some guys that really fit those spots and I'm excited to get everybody going."
As the defense continues to look effective early, it will get an even greater boost as fall approaches. Players like Allen, Gilbert and fifth-year linebacker Ethan Armstrong will all return from surgeries. But while Aranda waits for the veterans to get back on the field, he is happy to develop his younger players and grant them invaluable experience.
"The kids we are going with now are very talented, but not as experienced and a little bit new to football at this level," Aranda said. "There are steps that you have to take to where they can play fast and play confident. We have been able to take some of those steps. Especially in the last practices, we've improved by leaps and bounds. The hope is that we can continue on that path."
With the jump to the 3-4, Wisconsin will be the only team in the Big Ten and one of the few in the nation to feature the alignment.
With three down linemen such a rarity in the college game, UW's system is sure to catch teams off guard.
"We're going to be the only team in the Big Ten that really truly has one, so that will be kind of an advantage for us," Armstrong said. "It will be something different. It's a different way to attack. All defenses kind of have the same principle: keep them out of the end zone. But, it's another way of doing it and I think it will give us an advantage in a lot of ways. I'm looking forward to playing in it."