Setting the Stage
No Wisconsin position group returns more than the defensive line. Losing no seniors to graduation and no players early to the N.F.L., the Badgers maintain their entire starting lineup, reputation and swagger from last season. Seniors Conor Sheehy, Alec James and Chikwe Obasih are a consistent trio, finishing between 27 and 22 tackles and 1.5 and four tackles for loss, and getting junior nose tackle Olive Sagapolu back healthy adds to the group. Other than Obasih (hip) missing spring, this group will be raring to go.
Player to Watch: Olive Sagapolu
The presence of Sagapolu gives Wisconsin a ton of options. The Badgers had to get creative last year when Sagapolu injured his arm and had to miss five Big Ten games. UW moved Sheehy from end to inside – where he played admirably – and got an extended look at true freshman Garrett Rand (five tackles).
Sagapolu took over the nose tackle job midway through his true freshman year and has given the Badgers a true presence in the middle of their line at 6-2 and 348 pounds. Having him on the field and playing at a high level strengths the group.
Story Line to Watch: Young Talent
UW will have to replace James, Obasih and Sheehy in a year so this spring is important to get the reserves up to speed.
Redshirt junior Billy Hirschfeld got his feet wet after playing sparingly last season and will probably take on a bigger role this year. Redshirt sophomores Kraig Howe and David Pfaff didn’t see the field last season but both fit the bill of slippery defensive ends at roughly 6-3 and 270 pounds.
At 6-7 and 277 pounds, redshirt freshman Isaiahh Loudermilk is a year removed from playing 8-man football, which made him an intriguing prospect once he committed. He flashed during developmental practices in December during bowl prep and could be quite a player for the Badgers in the near future.
End-of-Spring Goal: Under Pressure
Although it’s the line’s job to suck up the double teams to create alleys for the linebackers, Obasih admitted last spring that Wisconsin didn’t get near enough pressure in the backfield. In 2015 the group combined for nine tackles for loss and two sacks. Last season the group had 10 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks (3.5 from James). With the experience returning, the expectations of the group should be high.