Anttaj Hawthorne and Jason Jefferson return as Wisconsin's starting defensive tackles. They are each loaded with talent but had inconsistent production last season. Hawthorne, a junior, has started 16 straight games. He is a load inside at 6-3, 300 pounds and he moves extremely well for a big man. Hawthorne contributed 68 tackles, seven for loss, two sacks, 12 quarterback hurries and he broke up two passes last season. Hawthorne put his immense talent on display this fall, firing off the line of scrimmage and making plays in the backfield. As has been the case through Hawthorne's career, however, it was a boom or bust fall camp. Hawthorne will disappear for stretches, then explode and flat out dominate for a string of plays. Hawthorne, though, brings a lot of fire to the defense. This could be the season that he puts it all together and becomes a flat out dominating presence on the line.
Jason Jefferson, also a junior, is another big, (6-3, 307) athletic and monstrously talented player inside. Jefferson, like Hawthorne, showed flashes last season and looks poised to take a big step this year. Jefferson had 45 tackles last season, including two for loss and one sack.
Jefferson and Hawthorne are a solid, and at times exceptional, combination inside. Another combination, Darius Jones and Nick Cochart, provide quality depth across the defensive line. Jones will play primarily end, but will slide down to tackle as well, especially in passing situations where he can tee off and rush the quarterback. Jones is a good all around player who excels as a pass rusher. He has a very good combination of strength and athleticism. Cochart is a workmanlike player inside. He was the No. 7 defensive lineman last season, playing nine games and recording three tackles. The senior will receive a lot of playing time this season. He looked very good this fall, displaying solid skills in all aspects of the game.
Though Mike Kleber was not listed in the official depth released Monday, he was a top reserve at defensive tackle during fall camp. At 293 pounds he is a solid run stuffer who played very well this fall, especially early in preseason camp, when he appeared to be a lock to land a spot with the No. 2 defense.
The other top reserves include sophomore Lyle Maiava, senior Matt Gadja and redshirt freshman Mark Gorman, who will also play end. Each player has talent and had a respectable fall camp, but none of the three lettered or recorded a tackle last season. Each will assume a reserve role, but will also likely play with the scout defense.