August 19, 2010

Nzegwu and Gilbert look for separation

MADISON - Bret Bielema wants to see separation between David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu before the team takes flight to the deserts of Las Vegas.

Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge hopes to see one of the same two players complete his checklist of four things prior to the opener.

One, prove he's trustworthy on and off the field. Two, use technique that they're being coached. Three, minimize mental errors. And four, produce.

That's the equation for both Gilbert and Nzegwu. Now it's their time to fill in the missing parts.

"I like having somebody push me to the limits," Nzegwu said following Wednesday's morning practice. "David is definitely that guy. There are some days where he has a better practice than I do. Coach points me out. Then I separate myself and there he is again having a good practice.

"It makes us both better and helps the chemistry and teamwork around the team."

Both Nzegwu and Gilbert look the part. They're each 6-foot-4 and weight 250 and 240 pounds respectively. They both possess size that is needed at the defensive end position to be successful.

That's not the question.

The question is who will put all the fundamentals, and all the explosiveness together best, and first. Right now it seems as though Nzegwu has a slight edge, but it's far from being a complete product right now.

"I feel like we're all trying to make the push just to become better," Gilbert said. "Being a starter right now is not the most important to me. Just elevating my game as much as I can everyday is my most important thing to me.

"The rest will take care of itself."

Nzegwu and Gilbert both rave about the relationship they've built with one another. Stemming from long workouts throughout the summer to intense position battles in camp, both players have a level of respect and admiration for one another both on and off the field.

That doesn't mean they don't like to compete, though. And separation just doesn't come overnight.

"It takes a lot," Nzegwu said. "David is a great player. Him behind me is just motivation to keep on working. When I see him do good it gets me mad a little bit. It gets me a little fired up and helps me better myself."

At a position that witnessed O'Brien Schofield rise from the depths to produce at an incredibly high level, both Nzegwu and Gilbert understand the importance of their role.

They understand they have all the physical skills necessary to produce at a high level and by doing so they could find themselves becoming competent leaders opposite J.J. Watt.

But in order to reach those heights, each player is going to have to focus on their individual games and their individual technique. That is what's going to separate one from the other.

"I like how David has a lot of extra effort in him," Nzegwu said. "Sometime when a coach gets on me with my tempo, I just want to build a tempo that David has. He has a lot of frenetic energy in him."

Though it's a heated battle, one that will likely go into the final week of training camp before seeing a resolution, Gilbert and Nzegwu find it important to focus on the individual and allow the rest to take care of itself.

Their selfless attitudes will allow that to happen. And in the long run, the team will benefit from it.

"It's not stressful because I know the more I push him, the more he pushes me," Gilbert said. "It can only make the team better. We all have an individual goal. My goal was never to come here and make it about me. It's just about us and as many games as we can win.

"Me pushing Louis on the field and him pushing me can only create great things on the field."

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