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Wisconsin Badgers defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard 'home' in Madison, not drawn to other jobs yet
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Wisconsin Badgers defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard 'home' in Madison, not drawn to other jobs yet

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PASADENA, Calif. — Jim Leonhard has been through this before.

The University of Wisconsin football team’s defensive coordinator picks up on the chatter surrounding him as a potential head coach just as he heard people talk up his abilities as a player during his NFL career.

Jim Leonhard mug


In his third year as coordinator, Leonhard’s defense ranks in the top ten in the Football Bowl Subdivision in a number of key statistics. Entering the Rose Bowl against No. 7 Oregon, No. 11 UW ranks second in third-down defense (.271 conversion rate), eighth in total defense (293.5 yards allowed per game) and 10th scoring defense (16.1 points per game allowed).

That kind of production with a young defensive roster has Leonhard’s name popping up every time a college football program is looking for a new coach, and as a candidate for NFL assistant jobs. But Leonhard said this week that he’s enjoying his time at UW that Madison is home for him.

“I'm extremely happy doing what I'm doing and where I'm doing it. And this place means a lot to me. And I love college football because it's more than Saturday. It's about the impact of these guys and how do you get them to grow and develop. And that is one of the top things on my mind as a coach, not just Xs and Os. And it's not like that every place. That's not valued at every place, and to me that's a huge part of it,” he said.

Leonhard said it “feels great” when he’s recognized as one of the top assistants in college football, but he maintains his focus on improving as a coach.

“I know I'm still an extremely young coach. There's coaches out there that have forgotten more than I know at this point. And I don't take that for granted. I understand the growth that I need to have from now till next season. I know over the course of time where I want to be as a coach,” Leonhard said.

“And I guess that's what I focus on more so than opportunities or more so than what people are telling me. Like, I know my strengths. I know my weaknesses. I think that's what helps me be good, but also just keeps me down the path of not worrying what you guys (the media) say so much.”

Taylor makes most of trip

Senior receiver A.J. Taylor has been getting his California experience by way of a scooter.

His right leg dons a boot and sits immobile on the scooter as he rehabs the torn Achilles tendon he suffered in the second quarter of the regular-season finale against Minnesota. Taylor said he’s expecting a six-to-nine month recovery before trying to catch on with an NFL team.

“It’s tough. I did know really what was going on, and it was emotional once I found out I actually tore it. But a couple days after that, it’s just about what’s next,” Taylor said.

He finished his season with 267 yards and two touchdowns on 23 catches, and posted career totals of 89 catches for 1,316 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Taylor said his mission this week is to help his receivers prepare and give them pointers during the game against the Ducks. But being in Los Angeles was beneficial for his future plans as well, as Taylor wants to enter the movie business once he’s finished at UW. He said he’s made connections in the field already.

“I want to be an actor, I want to get into film-making and all of that,” he said. “We’re in a great spot for that.”

Baun excited by the challenge

The matchup between UW senior linebacker Zack Baun and Oregon tackle Penei Sewell figures to be one of the most important of the Rose Bowl.

Baun’s 12½ sacks lead the Badgers and his consistent pressure is crucial to the defense. Sewell won the Outland Trophy as the top lineman in the country. Baun has battled some of the best tackles in the country in the Big Ten Conference, with Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs and Ohio State’s Thayer Munford standing out among that group. But Baun says Sewell is one of the best he’s seen.

“He’s definitely at the top. He’s the real deal, and when you watch him on film, you can tell why he won that trophy. He’s a physical dude, he’s big, but he’s also athletic,” Baun said.

How Baun fares against Sewell — a player already projected as the top lineman in the 2021 NFL Draft — could impact his rising draft stock as well.

Speaking on The Ryen Russillo Podcast, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said Baun is, “one of the more versatile, instinctive, consistent defensive players in the country,” and that it “wouldn’t shock” him if Baun were to become a first-round pick.

Baun will participate in the Reese’s Senior Bowl in January, which will allow him to be around NFL coaches and evaluators for a week.

Moorman ready to go

Senior guard David Moorman is healthy again after missing the majority of the Minnesota game and the Big Ten Championship due to an ankle injury.

He’ll start at left guard, the spot he took over the second half of the season. The fifth-year senior said he’s ready to end his college career on a high note.

“I’m pumped. It was definitely a hard couple of weeks,” Moorman said. “One last game as a Badger. I can’t wait to be out there with the guys one last time.

Who has the edge when the Badgers take on Oregon in the Rose Bowl?

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