Star-quality talent and solid depth is evident on very strong defensive front
Knee injury hobbles Jones
A starter at defensive end in 2003, Jones injured his knee in the Badgers' final regular season game against Iowa. The injury held him out of the Music City Bowl a month later and kept him from taking part in Wisconsin's spring practices in March and April.
The knee, apparently, has not healed enough for Jones, who was a high school All-American at Beloit (Wis.) Memorial, to return for what would be his senior season.
"Obviously he still has a knee problem," Wisconsin defensive line coach John Palermo said. "And he has some other issues that he needed to get squared away. Darius decided it was best that he focus on school so he could graduate."
Helene Jones, Darius' mother, confirmed Tuesday in a telephone interview from the Jones' home in Beloit that Darius would not participate in football this season due to the knee injury.
Reached by phone Monday evening, Darius declined comment.
Both Palermo and Helene Jones stated that Darius is still enrolled at Wisconsin. He could graduate in December.
"He's only going to be about six or maybe nine hours short of completion in the fall," Palermo said. "So he is going to try to concentrate on that. He's got to take a couple hard classes. It's best for him that he concentrate on getting his degree."
Palermo also confirmed that another former defensive starter, linebacker Kareem Timbers, will no longer play football at Wisconsin, also due to injuries.
"The doctors wouldn't release him," Palermo said. "He had two really bad shoulders and he had surgery on both of them."
According to Palermo, Timbers will be placed on a medical scholarship, which does not count against the Badgers' 85 scholarship allotment.
Timbers started six games at drop linebacker last season as a fourth-year junior. He recorded 21 tackles and two sacks. At 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, Timbers would likely have been moved from the strong side drop position to the weak side will linebacker spot in new defensive coordinator Bret Bielema's scheme. Timbers' absence leaves junior LaMarr Watkins as the only experienced linebacker at the will position. Junior Dontez Sanders, a converted safety, and incoming freshmen Jammar Crane and Nick Sutton will likely back up Watkins.
The loss of Jones leaves a significant hole in what could still be a deep defensive line. Wisconsin returns the other three starters from last season's quartet—tackles Anttaj Hawthorne and Jason Jefferson and end Jonathan Welsh—all of which are seniors. The team also will recoup the services of senior Erasmus James, who missed all of last season after suffering a debilitating hip injury early in fall practices. James has been cleared to practice when Wisconsin's fall camp begins Aug. 11.
"From the way I understand it, he'll be ready to go," Palermo said.
Jones started 11 games at end last season, tallying 40 tackles and 3 ½ sacks. In addition to missing the Music City Bowl loss to Auburn due to the knee injury, Jones was suspended for the Badgers' week two win over Akron, the result of charges of drunk driving and speeding stemming from a July 21, 2003 arrest in Shorewood Hills, a Madison suburb. In the two-and-a-half years prior to the arrest, Jones was cited twice for underage drinking, and once for speeding, all from separate incidents.
Jones initially enrolled at Wisconsin for the spring 2000 semester. He had graduated early from Beloit Memorial following a sterling prep career that brought him numerous All-American kudos from national publications. He played mostly on special teams as a true freshman, earning his first of three letters.
Jones recorded 10 tackles in less than two games in 2001 before suffering a broken right hand. He took a medical redshirt and returned for his sophomore season in 2002. That year he played in all 14 games, splitting time between defensive end and tackle. He started twice at tackle and had a career-best 42 tackles and five sacks.
Welsh and James have started a combined 27 games at Wisconsin, but there is only one other end on the roster with any game experience. Sophomore Joe Monty played sparingly in 12 games last season, all in reserve, and notched nine tackles.
Monty, though, worked with the first team during spring practices, while James and Jones nursed their injuries, and played well enough to be listed as a starter at left end heading into fall camp. Welsh is set to start on the right side.
"Joe Monty's in the mix big time in there," Palermo said. "Right now, he's the starter until somebody beats him out."
Redshirt freshman Jamal Cooper, who is listed at 6-4 and just 202 pounds, will be used as a pass rush specialist.
"Until he puts some weight on I don't see him helping us in any other situations," Palermo said.
Palermo said he will take a close look at incoming freshmen defensive ends Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman and tackles Gino Cruse and Nick Hayden to see if any of them can help the team's depth immediately.
"Physically I think most of them will be ready to play," Palermo said. "I just don't know if they'll be ready mentally."
If a freshman cannot step up, Palermo said he could move one of his defensive tackles out to end on first down, then move him back inside. Hawthorne took a handful of snaps at end during spring practices and redshirt freshman reserve Justin Ostrowski began his UW career at end.
"We'll still be OK. I can always move Anttaj, or all those guys, move them around on first down and then put them back inside. We'll always have flexibility that way," Palermo said. "I'd obviously like to have the flexibility not to do it. We'll just have to wait and see how some of these freshmen kids come on. We may look at some other kids at defensive end, which may be able to help us as well."
In addition to Jones and Timbers, two notable 2003 contributors will not return in 2004.
Senior quarterback Matt Schabert is transferring to Eastern Illinois after being supplanted on Wisconsin's depth chart by a younger quarterback corps.
Sophomore wide receiver Ernest Mason is expected to transfer. He was suspended indefinitely after two disputes with his girlfriend in a four-month span resulted in six misdemeanor charges. He plead guilty to four counts in May and was placed in Wisconsin's First Offenders Program.
"I don't know the details," Palermo said. "I'm assuming that he transferred to play down in Texas but I don't know that 100 percent." Mason played high school football at Dunbar in Fort Worth, Texas.
Other players who are not listed in Wisconsin's 2004 media guide: sophomore tailback Phillip Fuller, who is expected to transfer, sophomore wide receiver Enrique Cook, junior cornerback Johnny Sylvain and sophomore linebackers Adam Jelinek, Steve Moore and Dan Zess.
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