A group that lost the most probably took the most strides over the 15 spring practices, as Wisconsin's defensive line has developed some young potential at the position.
Wisconsin likely will begin the 2014 season (which kicks off Aug.30 against LSU in Houston) with Warren Herring at defensive tackle and Konrad Zagzebski at defensive end. Opposite Zagzebski appears for the moment to be redshirt freshman Chikwe Obiash, the defensive scout team player of the year last year.
Taking his lumps and battling through scout team work, Obasih has added roughly 35 pounds to his frame and has been working with the first-team defense over the last third of spring.
"He was the toughest guy last year on the scout team, day in and day out, as far as just coming out and getting knocked around," UW coach Gary Andersen said. "As light as he was, he kept on fighting and battling. So, he has a toughness we learned he had a year ago. That's just continued to grow."
Herring played at both tackle and end during the spring game, a move that might be common place during the upcoming season in certain packages. Herring has previous experience playing the three-technique and UW is willing to experiment with the senior to try to invigorate the pass rush.
"He's a valuable player, and we need to make sure we get him on the field in the right spots," said Andersen. "Warren's challenge is to be prepared to play upwards of 60 snaps a game, so he's got to get himself in shape to be able to handle that."
Andersen is also encouraged with the improvement of Alec James, who has successfully transitioned from outside linebacker to defensive end, and Jake Keefer, who added a significant amount of weight to his frame.
Defensive tackle appear to be a strength with senior Bryce Gilbert and redshirt sophomore Arthur Goldberg improving since the fall. That depth is another reason the Wisconsin coaching staff is willing to move Herring to the outside and rush on the edges in certain sub packages.
Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda crunched the numbers in the offseason and didn't like the results. According to Aranda, Wisconsin blitzed on 40 percent of the snaps last season and recorded 26 sacks and 64 tackles for loss. That number pales in comparison to Chris Ash's defense two seasons ago, where UW finished with 31 sacks and 77 TFLs despite blitzing on only seven percent of the snaps.
The Badgers are missing stalwarts Ethan Armstrong, Chris Borland and Conor O'Neill, but UW looks well equipped to bring pressure with Vince Biegel, Derek Landisch, Marcus Trotter and Michael Trotter on the line.
Sojourn Shelton had a banner freshman season, but he was adamant earlier in the week that he and his group didn't meet expectations. He pointed to the disparity in the numbers between Wisconsin's wins and losses. In UW's nine wins, Wisconsin allowed 158.1 passing yards per game. In UW's four losses, the number jumped to 302.5 yards per game.
The good news for the group of that the Badgers retain their two top cornerbacks in Shelton and Darius Hillary, both of whom shutdown their targets. Shelton was active against both Reggie Love and Kenzel Doe, making two athletic pass breakups.
Junior cornerback Devin Gaulden allowed a touchdown in the controlled part of the scrimmage with Kenzel Doe gained a step on him and made a diving catch, but responded later when he registered a sack and a forced fumble after coming untouched on a cornerback blitz. If he can stay healthy, Gaulden has the nickel cornerback spot locked up.
While UW looks set at corner, the safety position will be a work in the progress until the fall. UW only lost Dezmen Southward to graduation, but no longer has the services of quarterback Tanner McEvoy. After experimenting with Michael Caputo at outside linebacker, UW moved the junior back to safety, although UW will play him up on the line of scrimmage in some packages.
The other remaining spot will be a battle between Leo Musso, Nate Hammon, Austin Hudson and A.J. Jordan. Musso and Hammon were injured most of spring, Jordan was moved to wide receiver to help UW get through practices and Hudson finished with a game-high five tackles.