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Wisconsin football: inside linebackers unfazed by coaching changes

The inside linebackers at Wisconsin are excited to have Mark D'Onofrio coaching the position group.
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Each season there is usually a fair amount of coaching turnover on a college football staff. However, it is rare to have three different assistant coaches oversee a room in just a year.

For the Wisconsin Badgers' inside linebacker group, that is exactly what has unfolded since assistant coach Bob Bostad switched to coach the offensive line after the conclusion of last season.

While that much change in a short time could easily be seen as undesirable, the position group is embracing the new voice and another perspective to learn from this fall camp. "It's not really ideal for somebody to have three coaches in like a year span, but you know you can look at it in a positive way," sophomore linebacker Jake Chaney said. "We've learned from three people. Bostad going to offense, he had more of an offensive mindset to teaching the linebackers. We had a veteran like coach Sheridan, and of course, coach 'D' played in the NFL and college football. We got all three of those worlds."

Following Bob Bostad's shift back to the offensive line, a position he had previously coached for multiple decades, head coach Paul Chryst brought on Bill Sheridan to coach the linebackers. An assistant with over 30 years of experience at the college and NFL level, Sheridan worked with the group in the spring before resigning due to a pending NCAA investigation dating back to his time at Air Force.

As a result, Chryst was back in the market for an inside linebackers coach and wound up hiring Mark D'Onofrio, another veteran assistant with defensive coordinator experience.

Not only does D'Onofio have experience as a defensive assistant at the Power 5 level, but he was also a standout linebacker at Penn State before going on to the NFL as a second-round pick in the 1992 NFL Draft.

At the time of the hire, Paul Chryst had this to say about the addition of D'Onofrio:

“I’m excited to have Mark join our staff. He’s very passionate and brings great energy. He has a wealth of experience, both as a player and coach. That experience will help players, especially those in the inside linebacker room. Mark’s an excellent fit for our staff personally and philosophically. I can’t wait for him to be able to get around our players and I’m excited about their opportunity to learn from him.”

In speaking with some of the inside linebackers, D'Onofrio has quickly adapted to the new role, and the players are excited about what he brings to the position room. "Coach D has done a great job of coming in, been working his butt off, just learning the defense, learning our terminology," junior Tate Grass noted during local media day.

In fact, Jake Chaney believes that his new position coach brings an added element that the two predecessors didn't have, saying, "with him playing in the NFL, playing at Penn State, you know he is more relatable. How he wants us to fit things up, or how he sees things, he is able to get his eyes on the field with us when he teaches."

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Adding onto that, sophomore linebacker Jordan Turner said, "he's a cool guy. He has more of a funny side to him than the others," though Turner noted that D'Onofrio also "knows when it's time to be serious."

However, one thing that has stood out to Turner early on is the interest D'Onofrio takes in his players. "He's a great guy, and really cares about us. Like football, academically, how's the family going? He met my family one time when they were just here to see me. He wanted to meet with them, and I like seeing that from my coach."

D'Onofrio is walking into a situation where the Badgers are looking to replace the top two tacklers on the roster from a season ago. So far through the first two weeks of camp, the former defensive coordinator has been rotating players to get a better feel for each of their skillsets and to maximize reps. "There is a balance he is trying to strike," head coach Paul Chryst said during Monday's availability. "There is truly a position group where you are saying there is a good healthy competition."

With multiple weeks remaining before the opener, Paul Chryst noted that it is still early enough to work through that process. However, right now, Wisconsin has four players vying for those top two starting positions, with the pairings of Jordan Turner and Jake Chaney, as well as Tate Grass and Maema Njongmeta, working with the first-team defense.

Regardless of how the competition shakes out, the players are confident that they will be ready and that the group is in good hands under Mark D'Onofrio. "He's got the experience, he knows defense. So [now] it's just about helping make it easier on us," according to Tate Grass.  

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