Picked by the league media members to repeat as Big Ten West Division champions, Wisconsin likely earned that distinction because of its defense. Returning six starters on defense, but 18 letterwinners from a unit that finished fourth nationally in total defense and passing yards, 17th in scoring defense and 23rd in rushing defense a year ago, Wisconsin has many pieces in place to be one of the top units in the country.
With the media now being booted from fall camp practices, BadgerNation.com fills out what the offensive depth chart may look like when it’s released next week in anticipation of No.20 Wisconsin’s season opener against No.3 Alabama.
While their opposite number in the trenches struggles to find chemistry and a cohesive starting unit, Wisconsin’s defensive line had no problem finding a three-man unit determined to improve the team’s lackluster turnover total and overall pressures from a season ago. Chikwe Obasih plays with heart and aggression and should be more prepared entering his second season. Goldberg has been moved from tackle to end to exploit his abilities. He still weighs a shade under 300 pounds but moves like a player who weighs 30 pounds less. That’s a lot of force and footwork he’ll be bringing into an offensive lineman’s chest.
James and Neuville will be heavily involved in the line’s success as the starters on Wisconsin’s third-down peso package (a 2-4-5 alignment). Neuville has been a fun story to watch over the last nine months. Once an unheralded walk-on from Waupaca, Wis., Neuville put on a ton of solid weight in the offseason to push his frame over 250 pounds and worked his way on the depth chart in the spring. He got even better over the summer and was awarded a scholarship this week from head coach Paul Chryst. James has been limited with an ankle injury but should be ready for the opener.
First String:Conor Sheehy
Second String:Jeremy Patterson
Like Warren Herring before him, Sheehy has the ability to play both inside or outside on the line. Sheehy’s 6-4, 272-pound frame should be able to handle the double teams thrown his way to open up alleys for Wisconsin’s backers. Playing in all 14 games last season, Sheehy now has game experience added to his repertoire that should help him this season.
Patterson missed roughly a week of camp with a knee injury, allowing true freshman Olive Sagapolu to get some quality reps. Patterson is still working at the position and the scheme but the talent is there for him. It’ll be interesting to see if defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield and the rest of the staff want to try to keep Sagapolu’s redshirt this season or not.
Wisconsin might have the best one-two punch at outside linebacker in the country, let around the conference. Schobert continues to be the quiet leader and has improved his strength and football IQ. Biegel remains the outspoken one and appears to have better footwork, hand placement and overall knowledge than a season ago. There’s no debating where these two players sit on the chart, especially now that they both appear to be more consistent football players.
Behind them gets a little muddled. Walk-on-turned-scholarship redshirt sophomore Cichy had a nice camp gaining comfort in the scheme and defense, while fifth-year senior Hayes is a role player that is valuable to the operation.
“Jesse is a great player,” said Biegel of Hayes. “We’re going to need him for pass rushing opportunities and to fill in when Joe or I need a break. He’s a great third man. I have a lot of respect for him, and I’m lucky to have him in the room. He brings a good energy to the linebackers. We’re going to need him this year.”
It didn’t look pretty when Edwards and Jacobs went down within minutes of each other the first week of practice. Not only were the two coming off solid spring practices in which they developed good chemistry between the two of them, the Badgers had little depth at the position. Adding experience was part of the reason why Wisconsin brought in graduate transfer Kellen Jones for the season out of Clemson. Unlike the offensive line, which struggled to build quality depth, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda should feel great about the future of the position with players like Connelly, Orr, Alec Ingold and Keelon Brookins all making positive strides.
There’s a number of combinations that could go with the second string, but Connelly, who was put on scholarship this week with Neuville, and Orr have really shined (Chryst called him a surprise of camp). Ingold could redshirt by might develop into a good special teams player this season; Brookins is still learning the position after switching to it and Jones will likely be involved in some more or fashion when he feels a little more comfortable.
A pair of three-year starters will anchor the islands for Wisconsin, taking a little bit of a mystery of who will start at the position. The biggest question marks come from the reserves. In addition to Hillary, the Badgers have two other seniors on the roster – Terrance Floyd and T.J. Reynard – but neither made much of a camp impact. Wisconsin will likely go with Tindal, who made 10 tackles as a true freshman last season, as its nickel cornerback and Jamerson, who switched from receiver in the spring, as the top reserve.
First String:Michael Caputo
Second String:Leo Musso
One of the team’s best players and leaders, Caputo has a chance at an All-American season. Entering his third year as a starter, Caputo’s versatility will allow the Wisconsin coaching staff to drop him back into pass coverage or move him up close to the line to play the run. The possibilities are endless depending on the opponent. Musso is undersized to play safety but always seems to find himself around the football, probably one of the reasons why he was the unofficial team leader in interceptions. I’m not sold on his ability to be an every-down player, but he has tremendous heart and drive that a lot of players don’t have.
First String:Tanner McEvoy
Second String:D’Cota Dixon
What will McEvoy be? At the start of fall camp he was at starting safety who would be playing some receiver. Now it seems like just the opposite, as McEvoy spent most of fall camp working at receiver while other players – like Musso and Dixon – got experience. Truthfully, I don’t think the coaches even know how they are going to use McEvoy, but he certainly is a weapon at 6-6 with his athleticism. Dixon has made steady progress since the start of camp after being moved from linebacker. Safety is his natural position and his range is solid for a 5-10 athlete.