Spring wrap-up: Defensive line

Part 8 of BadgerNation.com's look back at Wisconsin's 2006 spring football practice season

News and notesJason Chapman, who started at defensive tackle for much of last season, then at end in the Capital One Bowl, was a starting tackle throughout spring. Junior Nick Hayden joined him as a first-team tackle, while junior Justin Ostrowski and sophomore Mike Newkirk were the second-team tackles.

Senior Joe Monty was the first-team left defensive end throughout the spring. Junior Kurt Ware opened the spring as the top right defensive end, but he struggled with a knee injury that was to be operated on after the spring. Junior Brandon Kelly supplanted him in the starting front four for the latter half of spring ball.

Ends junior Jamal Cooper and sophomore Matt Shaughnessy continued to rehabilitate, after each player tore an anterior cruciate ligament last season. Cooper took part in non-contact drills throughout spring and participated in one day of light contact work, start to finish. Shaughnessy, who had surgery two months after Cooper, jogged lightly around the field often during spring ball.

Redshirt freshman Terrance Jamison spent the spring as a second-team defensive end.

Redshirt freshman Dan Cascone was a third-team defensive tackle throughout spring and was a part of the second-team goal-line defense.

On the first-team goal-line or short-yardage defense, Chapman moved out to end, joining Monty, with Ostrowski and Hayden at the tackles.

Junior walk-on Derek Yentz joined Cascone with the third-team at tackle. Junior walk-on Adam Purcell was a third-team end, along with redshirt freshman walk-on Brian Behnke, before Purcell went down with an injury.

Senior Mark Gorman spent the spring at offensive guard, but will switch back to the defensive line this fall, according to a post-spring press release.

Spring MVP — Chapman. He played through several injuries last season and, all in all, had a good redshirt freshman campaign at tackle. He is exceptionally quick for a lineman at any position, let alone tackle, and he has is getting stronger, which will better enable him to deal with the inevitable double teams a tackle faces.

The feeling here is that the interior of the Badgers' first-team offensive line is going to prove to be pretty good. But Chapman and his first-team partner, Hayden, won the battles inside far more often than not.

Springing ahead — Hayden continued to progress after a very good season last year, when he was UW's glue on the defensive line, one of few front-four players who never missed a game due to injury. Hayden is big, strong and very athletic for a player of his size. And with only two years on campus, he still has plenty of room to grow, a scary reality for UW's opponents.

With Ware hobbled by injury, Kelly stepped into the void and had a fine spring, making as many plays as any defensive lineman. He is quick and fast off the edge and he has good size for the position. If the Badgers were not so deep at end, Kelly would be a prime candidate for a designated pass rusher's role. If he carries his spring momentum into fall training camp, it will be mighty difficult to keep him off the field.

Jamison, last season's scout-team defensive player of the year, continued his rapid progression this spring. He has average athleticism for an end, but he seems pretty natural at the position. He is a football player more than anything, using good leverage and a high-end motor to make his share of plays.

Pressing questions — The only real pressing question is how strong Cooper and Shaughnessy come back from their injuries. They are expected to be 100 percent cleared for summer workouts, which begin June 12, and should be in good shape by the beginning of fall training camp.

With Cooper and Shaughnessy on board, the Badgers' defensive line is blessed with an absurd amount of depth. So the real question is how does UW sort out the playing time among its bevy of defensive linemen ?

Consider: the Badgers have four defensive tackles in Chapman, Hayden, Ostrowski and Newkirk who all deserve to start. Chapman could play end, but then he takes snaps away from a very deserving player at one of those positions.

Monty, Cooper and Shaughnessy, after all, are established starters at end. Ware also can be a capable starter. Kelly really came on this spring and should get some regular playing time, but who does he take it from? Jamison is developing rapidly and should be a legitimate depth player by the time fall training camp is complete. And as if they needed any more options on the line, the Badgers may have something special in linebacker O'Brien Schofield as a rush end in nickel packages.

Looking back at tackle, Cascone can help the team in short yardage. And do not forget that Gorman was set to be a second-team defensive tackle last season, before an offseason injury robbed him of practically the entire year.

So who gets playing time? The Badgers have a rather pleasant conundrum on their hands.

Looking ahead — Assuming the Badgers are not ravaged by injuries as they were last year, their defensive line should be very good and it has the potential to be truly elite, perhaps better this year than it was two seasons ago, when four soon-to-be NFL Draft picks were the starters.

Expect Chapman to develop into an elite player this fall, with Hayden and Ostrowski right on his heels.

Cooper was on the verge of a breakout season last year, before his injury, and Shaughnessy was in the midst of an incredible true freshman year up until his injury. That duo will form an imposing right-end rotation. They each will play on passing downs and should provide the Badgers with a scary rush off the edges.

The best part for UW is that they should be able to rotate liberally on the defensive front, keeping everyone fresh and then perhaps honing in on a half-dozen players in crunch time who are having the most success that day. Again, UW has a wonderful conundrum on its hands.

Spring wrap-ups (premium)

Linebackers

Running backs

Tight ends

Safeties

Wide receivers

Cornerbacks

Offensive line


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