MADISON — As J.J. Watt broke down during his last interview as a Badger after the Rose Bowl, and it became clear to all but the most delusional fans at the time that Watt would not be returning for his senior year, one question has been tossed at co-defensive coordinator Charles Partridge more than any other in the past four months:
"How are you going to replace J.J. Watt?
Partridge's answer has always been simple — You can't.
As Partridge notes, it would be an insult to Watt to assume that he can be replaced. Instead, the Badgers will be looking for new players to step up and provide their own production.
This is a smart, sensible answer. It doesn't put any unnecessary pressure on the younger players and Partridge can sidestep the question underneath the question of where the Badgers are going to find the playmaking impact Watt provided.
Of course, all of that goes out the window when you talk to David Gilbert, the defensive end in position to take Watt's place in the starting line up.
"It has got to be me. I have just got to get beasty," Gilbert said.
That's right. Beasty.
Gilbert's attitude is clearly in the right place, even if his choice of adjectives is somewhat outside the realm of normal description.
So just exactly how does he define beastly?
"Beasty is every play someone is on the ground that is trying to block you," Gilbert said. "That's beasty."
"I have got to seize this opportunity. I have been here long enough and the coaches are expecting a lot of me. It is time for me to step up and be as good as I can be. I have big shoes to fill."
Standing at a ripped six-foot-four and 240 pounds, Gilbert certainly looks the part of a beast coming off the edge. Planning to put on 15 to 20 pounds over the summer, Gilbert should be ready physically for the effort that comes with starting every game.
That energy certainly showed during Wisconsin’s spring game, as Gilbert had six tackles (tied for first among the lineman), 2.5 tackles for loss and one four-yard sack.
It is now the challenge of taking his athletic potential — he has Watt's knack of blocking passes and punts down — and putting together the complete package that Gilbert will need to succeed with in the fall.
When asked what stuck out about Watt the most to him, Gilbert didn't hesitate to say it was Watt's unrelenting motor.
That is what Gilbert wants to be known for at Wisconsin. And what he wants his opponents to fear.
"I am supposed to be the next best pass rusher, the next big pass rusher and that is where I need to make my biggest jump right now," Gilbert said.
"In my mind when our team is in the situation where we need that big sack, we need that big play is you need that motor. You know, it is more of a mindset than physical. To step in that role to be the next big pass rusher you have to be ready for everything.
Gilbert has made a menace of himself all spring by getting his hands on the shorter quarterback Jon Budmayr's passes, and battling each play with All-Big Ten left tackle Ricky Wagner.
Showing the fans that they don't need to worry about where the pass rush will come from in the fall, Gilbert is now hoping to get the Badgers back to California.
"That Rose Bowl team is gone," Gilbert said. "This is a new team. And we have to prove ourselves worthy."