Senior Erasmus James returns at defensive end and is joined in the starting lineup by junior Jonathan Welsh. James started 13 games last season at right end and will move to the left side this season, taking over the position held previously by Jake Sprague. James contributed 57 tackles last season, including eight for loss and four sacks. At 6-4 and 261 pounds, James is an active and solid all-around player. James is very sudden and he provides a solid pass rush off the edge. James has appeared tantalizingly close to breaking out and becoming a consistent pass rushing threat the past two seasons, but it has not quite come to fruition. James only had four sacks, but he tallied 17 quarterback hurries. James is also solid against the rush, a facet of his game that will certainly be challenged more now that he is on the left side.
Welsh was a regular part of the rotation last season and started once, in a five-linemen set against Ohio State. He had 32-4-1 last year. Welsh is a pure speed player, someone who can turn the corner in a hurry when he is on. Welsh, though, gets overpowered when offensive tackles get a good shot at him and still needs to improve as a run stopper.
Both Welsh and James have had solid fall camps. Each showed flashes of a more developed pass rush repertoire this fall and both players made their presence felt in the backfield during scrimmage opportunities. Each player needs to show improvement this season and consistently provide a solid pass rush. The Badgers have been berated in recent years for their pass defense and a big part of this less-than-spectacular aspect of the team has been a stagnant pass rush. James and Welsh are veteran, talented players now and should help provide an improvement in this area.
The two top backups at defensive end are also the two top backups at defensive tackle. Junior Darius Jones and senior Nick Cochart have the versatility to play across the line, and play each position well. Cochart is the type of player that is supposed to be too small and too slow. He is only 267 pounds and not terribly quick but those are simply details. Cochart plays bigger than his size and has good functional quickness and football speed.
Cochart has been on the two-deep since late in his redshirt freshman campaign, yet he has only tallied six tackles, typically manning a back-of-the-rotation reserve role. That will change this season with Cochart regularly rotating across the line, though primarily at tackle. At end Cochart provides a physical presence and very good skills versus the run.
Jones is an extremely talented player who has been nagged by injuries and inconsistency. This fall both appear solved. Jones has consistently been a force on the Badgers defensive line, displaying the combination of raw athletic ability—strength, speed and size—and football skill that made him a high school All-American out of Beloit (Wis.) Memorial. He will be the primary reserve at defensive end. Jones is a physical force no matter where he plays and he is the team's best pure pass rusher.
Also in the rotation are junior Traison Lewis and freshman Joe Monty. Lewis has yo-yoed between the second and third defense throughout fall camp but recently looked to secure a place as one of the top reserves. He has a great burst off the line and has developed into a nice pass rusher. Lewis, though, is just adequate against the run.
Monty has burst onto the depth chart after greyshirting last season. He will likely work his way into the regular rotation as the season progresses, particularly in pass rush situations. Monty is a solid all around player and one of Wisconsin's more physical defensive ends.
Redshirt freshman Mark Gorman will also play tackle but provides quality depth at end.
Senior converted-line backer Jason Clemens will play primarily with the scout team but may see the field as a situational pass rusher. He is quick and he possesses a non-stop motor, but at only 226 pounds Clemens has a hard time with bigger, more physical linemen.
Freshman Justin Ostrowski played most of fall camp with the second unit defense, but was placed with the scout team this week. He still rotated with the second unit defense Thursday and it appears 50/50 that Ostrowski will redshirt. In any case, Ostrowski has a very bright future. A natural two-way defensive end with well-developed pass rush skills for a true freshman, he also holds up well against the run.
Freshman Jamal Cooper is a fantastic athlete with a super-quick first step. At 210 pounds he needs to get much bigger and must develop more pass rush skills. Cooper looked to wear down as camp progressed. He will run with the scout team this season.