August 22, 2010

Ash pushing secondary during camp

MADISON - Chris Ash came into the Wisconsin coaching family last spring and really spent most of the 15-allotted practices initiating members of the secondary into his coaching style.

Now, with fall camp two weeks deep, it seems as though the unit is really starting to adhere to Ash's principles. With a sound fundamental approach, one driven by technique, Ash has the secondary progressing in a somewhat fast demeanor.

At the conclusion of a recent practice, caught up with the first-year Badger assistant. The following is a question and answer with coach Ash.

Almost two weeks in, how do you assess the play of your guys and do you like the demeanor they're playing with?

Ash: We've got to be more consistent. That's the biggest thing right now with our group. We come out here some days and we play great and we come out here other days and we play not so good. That's just part of the process to try to get to where we want to get to.

Are they striving to be great? Are they trying to get there?

Ash: There's no doubt. We're working hard everyday to try to improve. Everybody has got a certain level of potential and we're trying to reach that potential everyday we come out here.

Do you like the mix of veteran guys and young guys? It seems like it's pretty equal with some older guys like Aaron Henry and Jay Valai back. I know Aaron is at a new position, but does it kind of ease the transition with some of these younger guys?

Ash: Yeah, anytime I line up I'd like to have a group full of veterans. It makes you feel more comfortable, but that's not what we have. It adds a little extra pressure and a little more responsibility to the older guys to make sure they can help bring along the younger guys to the point we feel comfortable and confident that they can execute out on the field.

Do you like the way Marcus Cromartie approached the summer?

Ash: Yeah, from the time I get here last February to now, Cromartie is a different kid. He's more focused and he comes out and competes. He's more confident. I'm not saying he's where he needs to be by any means, but he's really improved. I like the direction that he's headed.

Did it just kind of click for him?

Ash: He's been around for a couple of years now. Usually that's part of the process. A guy finally learns the system and understands he can be good if he does certain things right. I think he's hit that point where he's confident in his ability.

Is he an option for that fourth corner spot right now?

Ash: Yeah, none of our corner spots are set. We've got a lot of jobs open in the secondary right now. The main thing we're trying to compete and improve to see who will rise to the top especially at this point in training camp.

Do you see more consistency out of Niles Brinkley this fall camp?

Ash: Yeah, on certain days. We've all got our issues in the secondary. Like I said before, consistency is our number one thing. Niles is no different. Some days he's really, really good and some days he's not. The more consistent play we can get from him the better we'll be. That's just where we're at right now.

Going to the other side with Fenelus. Has he gotten more physical? He's always been a physical guy, but it seems like he's gotten more physical this year.

Ash: I can't answer that because other than what I saw in the spring…Is he a confident kid right now in his abilities? Yeah, which usually tends you to be a little more physical if you've got that in you. He'll attack blockers and he'll try to be physical on tackles and stuff. I like to have him at corner.

Do you get the sense that these guys are really adhering to what you're saying out there? After coming in during the spring, you got to know these guys. Now, is it really taking off?

Ash: I think they understand my coaching style and I think they understand what my expectations are. I think they understand how we need to work together and individually everyday that we come on here. I'm trying to get them to understand that practice is everything. We're trying to find a way to practice better than anybody else, any other defensive backs are practicing right now. Everything we do is going to be full speed and high tempo. That's the only way we can get better.

One of the more intriguing guys that I've watched is Dezmen Southward. What is he doing well and what does he still have to work on? How do you assess his play?

Ash: Well, what he does well is he's got natural athletic ability. He's got more ability than a lot of individuals out here. He's got to learn his assignments. He's at a new position right now after we moved him to safety. He's still learning. It's going to be a long process for him because he's got a limited background in football. I'm excited about what I've seen so far at this point. When is he going to be a guy that we can count on and trust to play on gameday? I don't know. It could be game one, it could be game 12 or it could be two years down the road, I don't know. He's got potential and I think the position move that we made was definitely the best for him and the team.

Could you use his athleticism on special teams this year?

Ash: Yeah, he'll be all over the field on special teams. But the same things with special teams. He's got a limited background of football and everyday is a new day for him. He's never played in a game so once he gets exposed to that we'll see how he responds and reacts to that situation. We'll see if he's ready to handle it or not.

How about the other young safety out there in Shelton Johnson? Now that Jay is out for a little bit, is he starting to make progress?

Ash: Yeah, they're all improving. I could name off a list of guys that have shown drastic improvement to this point. He's one of them. That's all we strive for everyday. Hopefully that improvement is enough to help us win a lot of games on Saturdays.

Is his strength his speed?

Ash: Yeah, he's a smart player, too. He's a smart kid, but yeah, he can run.

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