October 16, 2008

Move at free safety promotes competition

MADISON, Wis. - Junior Chris Maragos got his first career start at free safety last weekend against Penn State. In what was a somewhat surprising move, secondary coach Kerry Cooks decided to make the change with hopes of garnering more competition for the important position.

Following practice Wednesday night, BadgerBlitz.com caught up with the position coach. The following is a question and answer with the man in charge:

I guess the obvious question with Maragos getting the start over Shane Carter at free safety is what brought it about?

Cooks: I think Maragos has always been a good player for us. It was just a matter of time before he was going to see the field. Obviously he started out in our third down situation and it was just a matter of him getting comfortable with making the adjustments, lining up to the different formations and me trusting him on the field to go out there and get it done.

The other part about that is it kind of adds a little competition to the fire between Maragos and Shane Carter. So that way, if you got a guy that's not playing that well, you got another guy that you can rely on and trust enough to put in there knowing that he's got game experience.

I thought Chris came in and I thought he really did, after he settled down the first couple of series, I thought he played pretty well. He went in there and was a little nervous and made the mistakes that you would expect a first time player going in there to make versus Penn State. But he settled down and calmed down and played well.

What that did is when Shane got his opportunity to go in there, you could notice the difference of how he played and his tempo kind of picked up a little bit.

Was that a trust thing with Shane then, you weren't completely trusting of him?

Cooks: Well, you know what it is with Shane, and the biggest thing, he's got everything that you want at safety. He's got the size, he's got the speed, he's smart, he puts in the effort and time. The things that were hurting him right now was just getting those guys down in the open field.

We've got to understand as a secondary that we are the last line of defense. So even if the ball breaks and it goes for 30, if it goes for 60, if it goes for 80, as long as it doesn't give up the six points then we can live to see another down. That was the thing that Shane has kind of been struggling with.

I think now, he kind of understands, ok, this is my job. At all costs I've got to be able to make the plays that I'm supposed to make. By allowing Chris to go in there, Chris is a little bit more aggressive at doing those things and that adds a little competition, which is what you want.
Have you seen Carter more focused this week in practice?

Cooks: Oh no question. Even like I say on Saturday from the game when those guys are in and out, it's 'okay, I know I've got to do my job otherwise there's a guy sitting on the sideline waiting to come in and get it done for me.'

Is Shane disappointed, how is he handling the move?

Cooks: I think anytime you're a starter, you know, for 13 games last year and for most of the season this year so far, I think, I don't know if it's disappointment, but the good about Shane is like I said, he's a smart player. So he understands why. He's not thinking, he's getting everything exactly right. So he understands why and his personality or his demeanor hasn't changed. His mentality, which is what you love, 'I'm going to work and get it right and I'm going to get better. I'm going to show I'm an every down snap type safety.'

Is that exciting for you to kind of know that this could give him that little boost?

Cooks: It's exciting on two ends because it adds competition and hopefully it boosts Shane to play better and it's going to boost Maragos to play better because he's getting opportunities to get in there. Then on the flip side of that, is that now, I'm building depth at that position for the rest of the season and then entering into next season.

Switching subjects a little bit, Allen Langford continues to have one of his best seasons as a Badger, how impressed have you been with him and what can that be attributed to?

Cooks: I think it's phenomenal what Al's done this year. He's always been a good player, but I think that he's really focusing in. This is his senior year, I think that he wants to go out with no regrets. I think he was disappointed that he didn't get to finish his junior year the way that he wanted to finish it. I think that he came in, his mentality has been right, he's going to do everything that he can to put himself in the best position to be the best player this year, his last year, that he can.

He comes in and he works at it. He's another guy that puts in time, not just on the field, but he's in my office probably just as much as I am. When you start seeing stuff like that, you know it's important to a guy.

Were you surprised with how he's bounced back, especially with that severe of a knee injury?

Cooks: I wasn't surprised because I had opportunities to see how he rehabbed. I was with him and I saw him everyday here grinding. I saw him all throughout the summer when he was in my office. I saw all the things he was doing to get back to be able to play this year even throughout August camp. So I'm not surprised to how quickly he's come back because he's worked his butt off to get there.

Coach Dave Doeren said the other night that most of the defensive guys came to him shortly after the game and just wondered what they could do better. Is that a coaches dream when you have guys like that?

Cooks: It is, it is. I tell you what, when you face adversity and you got guys not coming in and finding out what the problems are, you kind of worry a little bit because you kind of question, 'okay how important it is to you.' But when you got guys, the whole defense and even some of the backup guys coming to you and say, 'Hey coach, how can I get this corrected? We're better than what we're playing right now.'

You got to love that, because it's important to those guys. It makes you feel great as a coach because you know you're coaching guys that really love to play the game.

Saying all that, is it surprising how the team has started so far in conference play?

Cooks: You know, I don't know if it's surprising. Obviously, I think it's definitely unexpected, but this is college football. You can't predict anything. The only thing that we can do is keep grinding, keep getting better, keep fixing the mistakes and really understanding that the things that are hurting us, they're small things but they lead to big problems.

So if we can correct those things and stay focused, we're playing pretty good on defense for the most part. Then those guys have got to understand that and keep coming and keep believing and things will pop for them.

Is that where the 1-0 mantra really comes in?

Cooks: Exactly, exactly. It's 1-0, you can't do anything about the past, but all you can do is learn from it. So you learn from your mistakes and you continue to focus on the next game and that's the 1-0 mentality.

There's still a lot to play for, I mean, there's six games to go.

Cooks: Oh my gosh, there's six games left. There's six games left, you know, people act like it's the end of the world. There's six games left. Our kids aren't giving up, the coaches aren't giving up. We're going to come out and grind and fight just like we do every day.

Over the last couple of games, Antonio Fenelus has been returning kicks, is that an effort to get his athleticism on the field?

Cooks: We're trying to use those guys as much as we can. Especially, with it being you've got young guys that's got some ability and an opportunity to help you, you'd like to get them on the field as much as you can in any situation.

Is he getting closer to getting some time in the defensive packages?

Cooks: You know, I think that again, him and Devin Smith are learning and wanting to get better every week. The biggest thing with the freshmen, putting them out there at corner, is that that's the position, you talk about guys seeing on the field, the new guy, you can be exposed. You got to be delicate with how you handle freshmen getting out there. There's not a lot of Aaron Henry's that come along every year with the confidence that, 'ok, if I get beat, I'm going to come right back and fight.'

I'm not saying those guys don't believe in themselves, but if they had to go in, they would understand how to line up and make plays. But they've got to understand that they're going to get attacked. As a coach, you want to be smart on how you protect those guys with that.

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