AJ MACLEAN/Herald photoAfter entering last season as the biggest question mark on a defense featuring a talented line and experienced backfield, the Wisconsin linebackers returned all three starters heading into this year’s spring practice. However, with senior “will” backer Dontez Sanders nursing an injury, several youngsters have stepped up for Bret Bielema’s defense.“Obviously, we have guys that haven’t had many reps in live game situations,” Bielema said. “The more you can put them in those situations through scrimmages, pressure situations, understanding what the point is in the football game that they need to do this, this and this for this to happen. That’s going to happen, but there’s a big, big learning curve. They learn every day, you can see it literally happen within a practice.”One of those youngsters who has grabbed the coaching staff’s attention this spring is redshirt sophomore Casey Hogan. Hogan worked at safety last season, but shifted to “sam” linebacker prior to the spring session and has earned a spot on the second team defense after beginning the spring buried on the depth chart.“What we’ve really done is put him in a position where he would have more success physically, in theory, than the other position,” Bielema said.The transition to linebacker has been, by Hogan’s own admission, tough. However, the new “sam” backer has been studying film and learning from teammates.“It’s definitely a lot more physical,” Hogan said of playing on the strong side. “I’ve definitely been in the training room a lot more than I’m used to. I’ve just got to use my size and my long arms to my advantage and know where I’ve got to line up in formations and stuff and just do my keys and I’ll be alright.”Hogan has made the most of his chances thus far, showing his combination of speed and quickness for a linebacker. The lanky 6-foot-5 Hogan has also used his atypical size to create problems for the UW offense on blitzes during scrimmages. For the Cross Plains native, his play of late is a culmination of many hours of hard work.“The goal coming into the spring was just to get the coaches to notice, work hard in the weight room and get bigger, faster and stronger with [strength and conditioning coordinator John Dettman] and company,” Hogan said. “I’m just working hard, trying to get up in the film room as much as I can, get up with the coaches, talk to them. I’m lucky they’re noticing and I’m making the plays and getting the opportunity.”The man ahead of Hogan on the depth chart, junior Mark Zalewski, has had one of the best springs of any player on the defensive side of the football. While senior Lamarr Watkins, who has played in 31 games (starting eight) in his career, has taken the majority of snaps with the first team defense at “will” in Sanders’ absence, only Zalewski appears to have a real grip on a starting job.“I think Mark Zalewski is a good football player,” Bielema said. “Zew’s probably my best linebacker at any position, and he knows that. He’s really competing well amongst himself. He knows what he has to do to become a better football player. The rest of the guys, it’s a wide open battle and they’re doing some good things.”A position in an upheaval of sorts this spring has been “mike” backer, where sophomore Andy Crooks, who took over the starting spot for five games near the end of last season, has been among a number of players working with the first team defense in the middle.Junior Reggie Cribbs, who started prior to Crooks’ emergence until he was limited by an injury last season, has been a noticeable absence this spring. Cribbs has not participated in practice reportedly due to academic issues, and his status for the fall remains uncertain.Along with Crooks, junior Paul Joran and redshirt freshman Josh Neal have each spent time at first team “mike”, with Joran seeing the most time of late.The group as a whole will receive a boost in the fall from a talented freshman class that includes highly touted linebackers Travis Beckum and Elijah Hodge. However, the influx of new talent could also leave several current Badger linebackers fighting for spots on the depth chart.“We can’t worry about them,” Hogan said. “We’ve got to do our job right now, it’s spring ball and they’re obviously not here. But when they come in, we’re going to welcome them and try to help them into our family at linebacker, help them as much as we can and make us a better unit.”
Liverpool produced one of the best displays of the season as they ran riot in their best display under new manager Jurgen Klopp to beat Manchester City 4-1.The visitors exploded out of the blocks and were all over City in the first half, displaying the pressing-game that their manager is so famous for.The first goal came when Phillippe Coutinho robbed the ball off Bacary Sagna and played the excellent Firmino in down the left. His cross was drilled into the danger area, but Eliaquim Mangala won’t want to watch the goal again after he failed to sort out his feet and deflected the ball beyond his own goalkeeper.The visitors latched on to their lead and built on it, taking advantage of having an extra man in midfield to stifle City’s central two and counter time and again. Coutinho made it two when he was picked out by a delightful Firmino cross on one such counter, and the striker got the goal that his performance deserved on 32 minutes to make it 3-0, finishing off a silky passing move that featured an outrageous Emre Can back-heel.Just when it looked like the game was dead and buried, up popped Sergio Aguero to curl home a brilliant finish to make it 3-1 at the break and give City a glimmer of hope. A tactical reshuffle at the break saw Yaya Toure and Jesus Navas hauled off by City, but even though it briefly looked like making an impact there was too much for the hosts to do.Coutinho had a goal ruled out for offside, Firmino was denied one-on-one by Joe Hart and substitute Christian Benteke also saw a shot saved by the City stopper. But Martin Skrtel sealed the win with a thunderbolt from the edge of the area with less than ten minutes left on the clock.The win takes Klopp’s men to ninth in the Premier League, while City surrender top spot to Leicester City and also fall behind neighbours Manchester United. –This game was live on SuperSport, your world of champions.