March 22, 2010

Claxton coming along at linebacker

MADISON - When the Wisconsin football team opened spring camp just over a week ago, a couple of players found residence at a new position. Two players in particular stand out. Kevin Claxton a junior who had been set at safety now plays linebacker. Conor O'Neill, a young linebacker recruit, is now at safety.

With camp progressing towards the midway point, it seems both players are slowly starting to find comfort in their new roles.

At the conclusion of a recent practice, caught up with one of those players that have undergone a position change. The following is a question and answer with Claxton.

You are looking a bit stronger? How much weight did you put on?

Claxton: I put on about 12 pounds. I'm about 220 pounds right now.

Is that where you want to be? Or are you looking to put on more?

Claxton: I want to stay at 220.

Is that where the coaches want you at?

Claxton: Yeah.

I saw you making some big hits at the linebacker position. Is that a fun transition?

Claxton: Yeah, I love the transition. At safety I thought I had a lot of contact, but linebacker is a lot more.

So you welcomed the move?

Claxton: Yes sir.

What went into that? Did the coaches just approach you?

Claxton: Yeah, we had our coach and player meeting and coach Bret Bielema mentioned it to me and I told him I was down for it.

Is that just something that you didn't see yourself fitting in at safety? Or you just saw yourself fitting better at linebacker?

Claxton: You know the depth that we have at linebacker (is less) with a lot of guys out. I saw it as a chance for me to step in and help the team get better during the spring. I was all for it when coach asked me to do it.

Talk about that depth at linebacker, now adding you to the unit. I guess they lose O'Neill to safety, but you guys have pretty good depth there.

Claxton: Yeah, we have a great group of guys. We have Chris Borland and Mike Taylor out, but when they come back the depth is probably one of the best in the Big Ten.

That's got to be exciting moving forward, especially in spring ball when you get all these reps.

Claxton: Exactly.

When you move from safety to linebacker does that change your mentality at all, or your mindset?

Claxton: Not at all. At strong safety last year I was a little bit in the box and I had the mentality of going in and taking blocks. I guess it changes a little bit because I have to have that mentality every play, of going in and taking on those big guys down there. So I guess the mentality to be able to be physical every play with the offensive line and fullbacks.

Is it easier to learn cover schemes when you're a safety or a linebacker when you have to drop into coverage?

Claxton: I would say it's a little bit easier at safety because you don't have to worry so much about the run. At linebacker you have the run first and if it's not a run you have to worry about getting to your points on the field. I would say it was easier at safety.

Did you play linebacker in high school at all?

Claxton: Not at all.

So this is all fresh to you?

Claxton: It's all new to me.

How is the playbook going?

Claxton: It's coming along pretty good. Being a safety, I got to make those calls to the linebackers last year. I'm kind of putting it all together and it's coming along pretty good.

Do you have any personal goals, or anything that you're trying to accomplish this spring?

Claxton: To help the team more than I did last year. I didn't get the chance to do much last year, but this year I'm hoping whether it's special teams or whatever it is, I'm hoping to help the team win.

Where do they have you playing linebacker?

Claxton: I am at Sam backer behind Kevin Rouse.

So that won't have any effect when Taylor comes back?

Claxton: I don't know, we'll have to see.

Is that how you view spring ball? You're just trying to work hard and show them that I can play?

Claxton: I just got to get the mental part down about the position and show them that I can play it.

Has anyone else on the defense looked impressive to you?

Claxton: I would say Louis Nzegwu. He's looked real good.

Is he kind of fitting into that role that O'Brien Schofield left open?

Claxton: Yeah, he's getting there. He's looking pretty good so far.

How is David Gilbert looking so far?

Claxton: Gilbert is looking good, too. Those two guys are competing for that spot so he's looking really good.

You guys have a lot of young players out here. It's exciting, isn't it, especially being a part of it?

Claxton: Yeah, we see what we have and know what we can be. We just have to work and see if we can get to maybe a Big Ten championship. We have the guys to be able to do it, we've just got to work for it.

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