MADISON, Wis. — The caloric intake for one of Chipotle’s double-wrapped chicken burritos is roughly 1,150 calories — give or take a few hundred depending on the amount of extra white rice crammed between the tortillas.
For most, a regular trip to ingest such a culinary delight may sound like a gastrointestinal nightmare. For some members of Wisconsin’s defensive line, it proved to be an essential part of transitioning to a new defensive scheme, which also required players to take on a new body type.
“That was definitely our go-to place,” Badgers defensive end Tyler Dippel said.
Dippel does not mean to suggest he and his teammates on the line indulged to the point of becoming fat and out of shape. To the contrary, actually. By combining eating meals — and snacks between meals — with rigorous weightlifting and agility workouts, Dippel was able to bulk up from between 250-255 pounds last season to 270 pounds this season. Fellow defensive end Pat Muldoon, meanwhile, increased his weight from 250 to 269 pounds.
“If I wasn’t full, I wasn’t doing it right,” Muldoon said. “Whenever I felt any room in there, I’d try to stuff some food in there.”
Both players changed their bodies to add strength without sacrificing speed in order to better prepare for Wisconsin’s 3-4 defense this season. And they are hoping the results will show when No. 23 Wisconsin opens its season at 11 a.m. Saturday against UMass at Camp Randall Stadium.
The impetus for such a considerable weight gain came from Wisconsin’s new coaching staff and was carried out by Badgers strength coach Evan Simon. Dippel and Muldoon, who are still battling to start at defensive end opposite Ethan Hemer, were told in the spring that they should try and gain one pound per week, gradually working up to the right playing weight.
“The biggest part is have a good breakfast and then fill in between your three meals,” Dippel said. “Get a bunch of snacks. That’s the thing. You’ve got to always be snacking on something, whether it’s trail mix, PB&J, you’ve just got to have something in your bag with you everywhere you go. To class, to everything. Literally, you’re walking to your class and just eating and eating. That takes a little getting used to. Once you get the hang of it, it’s no big deal.”
The rationale behind the change was simple: Wisconsin’s new scheme requires defensive ends to take on double teams and thus necessitates an ability to deal with multiple offensive linemen. From a technique standpoint, Badgers defensive ends have switched to what is called a 4i technique, which is when the nose of the defensive lineman is aligned on the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle. In a 4-3, defensive ends were lined up in 5-technique, on the outside shoulder of the tackle to spring off the end.
“To be able to play a double team well, you need to have some heft to you,” Dippel said. “You’re going to get blown out of there. If you’re fighting against 600 pounds of offensive linemen and you’re 250, you’re going to get killed. You can actually feel how much it helps you by having that extra weight. Especially once you feel the weight, it becomes easier to play that heavy inside.”
The new scheme is the same one Utah State used last season under defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who is now in charge of Wisconsin’s defense. In the system, the defensive ends are responsible for two-gap technique, which requires more discipline. He is accountable for the A and B gaps on his side of the field. Rather than pushing through a single gap, he must read the play, anticipate which gap a running back will choose and clog that lane.
“That helps linebackers play to the flow of the ball,” Badgers linebacker Chris Borland said. “In our old defense, it was more gap accountability. Each guy had a gap. They’re playing great at it. Muldoon’s built for it. Dippel’s doing well. Hemer’s playing it the right way. Camp was big for us getting used to that, and I think it’s really shown at the linebacker level how well those guys are playing.”
While Dippel and Muldoon have adjusted to a weight increase, not every defensive end in Wisconsin’s rotation was asked to bulk up. Hemer actually lost 35 pounds, dropping from 320 pounds last season to 285 now. Like Dippel and Muldoon, the reason was to establish the right body type for success in a 3-4, in which power and speed are of equal importance.
“What I lost in strength, I gained in agility and speed,” Hemer said. “I felt like I could move around better. It feels more natural at this weight. But I didn’t realize it until I lost the weight. I felt comfortable at 320. Now I feel way better and I can’t even imagine how I was at that size.”
Hemer put any trips to Chipotle with Dippel and Muldoon on hold. And that wasn’t the only meal he had to trim from his diet.
“I cut out junk food,” Hemer said. “Late night snacks. Topper’s Pizza had to go for a while, which was sad. I couldn’t eat gyros anymore. I couldn’t eat the dirty, greasy stuff that linemen love. I had to cut it out. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”
Added Wisconsin defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a: “It was an easy adjustment. Hemer, we’ve got to slow him down from not losing more weight. He’s getting that male model body, you know. He sees some abs. It gave him some confidence.”
With new body types, Wisconsin’s defensive ends believe they can be even more productive this season. A year ago, Dippel tied for the team lead with five sacks and totaled 20 tackles. Hemer added 24 tackles and Muldoon 15 tackles. Konrad Zagzebski, who is listed as Hemer’s backup, had four tackles.
Those four defensive ends have considerable experience as well. Combined, they have appeared in 133 games with 46 starts. Now, in many respects, they are getting a fresh start as they try to take Utah State’s defense and make it their own.
“These guys are a veteran group,” Kauha’aha’a said. “They’ve been around the block a long time. They really fit the mold with the adjustments they made in their body and their strength.”