A high school player in the state, Maragos got a chance to walk-on to the Badgers' football program in 2007 after two uneventful seasons at Western Michigan. From there he changed positions, started two seasons at safety and became a team captain on a 10-win team in 2009.
Now as he prepares for his third year in the National Football League, he kicks off his third year with Badgernation.com to break down the Badgers.
Every week, Maragos will breakdown the previous week's game and answering subscriber questions posted on the insider board. Using his knowledge of Wisconsin's defense and its personnel, Maragos' contributions give added insight to Wisconsin football.
This week, Maragos addresses the issues surrounding Wisconsin, the constant improvement of the defense and how far Wisconsin is from really getting on a roll.
You've been through quarterback competitions and controversies in college and in the NFL. What's it like going through that during the season and how does that affect the team with its chemistry?
Maragos The biggest thing for a team is you want to have one guy and go with him. I think it could possibly throw things off a little bit. The biggest thing is you need to find your guy, trust him and go to play ball. The biggest thing that could arise is you don't do one of those things (I just said). Where you are as a position or a player, you have to try to ignore it and focus on what's happening at your spot.
When you watch the game with a defensive mindset, could you see a noticeable difference in the way the offensive line played on week three compared to week one and two?
Maragos Yeah. You could definitely tell that they were doing specific things that were different. You could tell their demeanor was different. The things about is the Badgers have dominant offensive lines and have that tradition, but we have guys that are learning to play with each other, make calls together and mature together. It's a process. The lines have been so good the last few years because Wisconsin has had a lot of top round picks. It's going to take a little bit of time to gel together and that's what you are starting to see. Expectations at Wisconsin are so high, but it takes time for guys to get in those positions.
Even the older guys are learning. Travis Frederick played guard last year and now he's at center. Wisconsin likes to pull its center a lot, so that's learning different things. He has to snap the ball and pull, so it's a lot of different body movements and assignments you just have to get comfortable with.
Maragos Anytime that you are in there and you are getting your first reps, you just want a guy who is in the right spots, tackle well, communicate well and not bust coverages. I think he did a good job. I think he's definitely going to be a guy that can make plays on the back end for years to come. It's hard to tell because I didn't see the coaches film, but he has a real promising future.
Wisconsin coaches hinted that the Badgers will have to alter their formation so Mike Taylor isn't going one-on-one against quicker receivers on wheel routes, something that has burned the Badgers this season. What can the defense do differently in their base formations to better cover that route?
Maragos Anytime you get a Cover 4 or Cover 3 defense and you get those isolation wheel routes, you have a couple guys vertical and the linebacker has to match up with the (wheel) route, which is an out route that turns into a go route. After awhile, teams figure out what your defenses are and they game plan plays that are going to attack that. I think one of the biggest ways to fix that is throw some Cover 2, which takes the linebacker off that route and puts it between the cornerback and the safety. You get a little bit more speed to carry those things and stop those. There are little nuisances you can do, but the biggest thing is to have an audible call and always do different things so offenses can't get a beat on your plays.
Through three games Wisconsin has yet to force a turnover. Is that surprising to you and from the games you have seen, are they close to making that play to turn the tide?
Maragos The turnover margin in games is critical, and Wisconsin hasn't taken advantage of that. Winning that really increases your chances of winning. It's important to get those extra possessions. It's just kind of the situation the Badgers have been in the last few games. You always want to make sure you are in the right spots and doing the right things so those plays come. When you get outside of yourself and try to do too much to make those plays, that's when you start getting beat and giving up those big plays. Turnovers always seem to come in bunches, so if you are in the right spot and doing the things you need to do, the plays will come to you. When they do come, you've got to make the play. As long as they are stopping the run and eliminating the big plays, the turnovers will come.
Defensively, it seems like Wisconsin's defense has gotten better each week. What have you seen them improve on from week one to week two to week three? Where's the big growth?
Maragos I think it's just the comfort level with each other and what's going on. Anytime the defensive backs have really good communication, the faster the defense can play because everyone is on the same page. As a defensive back, a misstep here or a break here and a play goes for 50 yards. You have to be on all the time, and I think you are starting to see a level of consistency in the guys.
Other than create turnovers, where's the big area Wisconsin's defense needs to improve on this week before going to a hostile environment in Nebraska? What's the thing you would say to the group?
Maragos I think one of the ways they could improve and improve the overall defense is getting more pressure on the quarterback with sacks and quarterback hurries. They really need to give that quarterback off his mark. He needs to think every time he drops back is if a guy is coming, if there is a player in my blind spot and things like that. Get him to feel those things because when he does, he's not thinking about what he needs to and he'll create those turnovers or not sit in the pocket as long before he tries to scramble. It's a big emphasis because everything starts up front.
I think the defense, excluding a few plays, has played really well. They've limited their opponents. They've done a pretty good job in the first few games of playing together and bringing along the younger guys. The team is improving and getting better. There is definitely more room for improvement for the overall team, but I don't think they are that far off if they get a few things to click for them and fall into place. There are enough guys that have played enough games and have enough heart to get them to improve.
You look at this team and they've won two close games and they lost a close game. What do you think the mood of the team is, knowing that they haven't played their best football yet?
Maragos I think that comes from the captains. As a captain, you can always think, ‘When all else fails, I've been chosen for everybody to look at.' You have to provide that spark. You have to provide that heart to get guys going and rise up when times are tough to make a play. You really have to step in to go above and beyond to really spark your team and get the guys going. The leadership is going to be really important, and they have really good leadership. It'll come. If the ball bounces their way a few times, guys will feel that.
Wisconsin is facing UTEP (1-2) on Saturday and have played a tough schedule. Even so, it seems like this weekend is all about the Badgers finding that consistency, right?
Maragos: This game is going to be important in terms of a confidence boost. The most important thing is there needs to be explosive plays limited by the defense and created by the offense. That's going to be huge, particularly because of the style of play that Wisconsin plays. If you want to run the ball really well, you need to have explosive plays to loosen up the defense a little bit. I think it's important for Montee Ball get some big runs early so his confidence can grow and the offensive line's confidence can grow. That's really the whole key to the team is to have those guys playing well and getting on a roll. I think explosive plays will be really important for the overall team and get them on a roll.
What's your prediction for Saturday's game?
Maragos: I've got to go with the Badgers at home. At the Camp, it's a tough place to play, no matter what's been going on. I think they are going to build off the success they had winning last week and guys are going to make some plays that are going to break the game open. The defense is going to play well, and I am excited to see what they can do for the game. I am going to go with 24-14.
And just for fun, what's your prediction for the Monday night game. I don't know which two teams are playing, but any thoughts?
Maragos: (laughing). That's a good question. I think we'll go with the Seattle Seahawks on that one.