On the nose: Badgers desperate to develop depth at nose guard
A year ago, Wisconsin's Warren Herring (pictured) was the backup to starter Beau Allen at nose guard, and the two combined for 37 tackles and 5.5 sacks. In 2014, Herring will likely have to shoulder a much heavier load for the Badgers.
MADISON, Wis. — Gary Andersen likes to say he calls things on his football team like he sees it. So when asked last week to assess the status of his nose guards, the Badgers’ second-year coach didn’t hold back.
"I don’t know how much of a battle it is right now, but I know it’s not where we need to be," Andersen said then. "Right now, Warren (Herring) will probably have to play every snap. It’s a big concern."
Backup nose guard Arthur Goldberg wasn’t present for Andersen’s comments, but he understood the underlying message: If Wisconsin wanted to play at the level many expect, Goldberg and the rest of the nose guards needed to step up to the challenge.
"I don’t really let them get to my head too much, but they’re always there," Goldberg said following Wednesday’s practice. "I know coach A expects a lot out of me. I’m just trying to help the nose guard position. I feel like it kind of took me a while to get going, but now I’m starting to hit my stride."
Goldberg, along with Jeremy Patterson and Conor Sheehy, each has appeared to find his stride over the past week. And it has created a scenario that is considerably more soothing for Andersen, who was upbeat about the team’s nose guards following Wisconsin’s scrimmage on Sunday, saying he’d seen much progress.
That progress will be valuable because as talented as Herring is, he’ll need support in pushing back offensive lines this season.
"Arthur Goldberg is getting better every day," Herring said. "He’s starting to make a lot of plays. Being able to recognize run from pass and things like that. Being able to be stout on the run. There’s a lot of things we all have to work on, especially myself, to get where we want to be. But as of right now, it’s constant improvement from all of us. I’m really excited to see where we’re going to end up."
A year ago, Herring was the backup to starter Beau Allen, and the two formed a formidable 1-2 punch, sharing the snaps almost equally on Saturdays. The two combined for 37 tackles and 5.5 sacks. It remains to be seen how much time Goldberg will get, but he has instilled confidence in teammates and coaches despite never having appeared in a college game.
Goldberg, at 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds, said he knew the opportunity for playing time would present itself when senior Bryce Gilbert, the presumed backup to Herring, left the team during the offseason. He said his advantage could come from the fact that he has taken fewer game reps. Herring has appeared in 35 career games.
"I know I’m quick," Goldberg said. "I’m not as heavy as a usual nose guard at 290. I’m a little bit more youthful, a little bit fresher. They’ve played a little bit. I really haven’t touched the field yet."
Patterson, too, has shown steady improvement during the first two weeks of fall camp. The 6-3, 326-pounder weighs more than all but one player on the team and appears to have tremendous potential as a space eater in the middle of the field. He said he spent the summer learning from Herring, who served as his "Big Brother" in Andersen’s mentorship program.
"Really I spent quite a bit of time with him," Patterson said. "If we were running, I spent time with him, ran beside him. He’ll keep pushing me. If we weren’t together, he’d still be pushing me."
Patterson has progressed enough that he appears to have the No. 3 nose guard position locked up and is expected to make the travel squad.
"It’d be very important," he said. "It’s like a dream come true, really."
Playing nose guard is one of the more physically demanding positions on the field for defenders because it requires players to occupy double teams from burly offensive linemen while teammates hopefully reap rewards with tackles and sacks. And, like any position, there is a steep learning curve at the college level.
Herring said he had been impressed with the ability of Goldberg, Patterson and Sheehy to maintain a positive attitude during the process — something Herring has discussed all summer. All of their improvements, he hopes, can help Wisconsin form one of the toughest defenses in the country.
"I had that issue coming in . . . when you make a bad play when you’re young and you want to do well, you go into a rut," Herring said. "You go into a downward spiral when you’re thinking about it too much. That’s one of the things I try to stress is having a positive attitude. They’ve always been able to keep that.
"They’re workhorses. They want to be the best they can be. They get better every day. And that’s one of the main things I’ve seen out of them. That’s been helping them with their technique and being able to be coachable every day."