Spring Position Preview: Defensive Line

With Wisconsin having to already place three lineman from a year ago, including starter Nick Hayden, three potential starters out with injuries does not bode well for the Badgers front four, unless you are an unproven lineman looking for an opportunity.

Starters returning: Senior end Matt Shaughnessy

Other key returnees: Junior end O'Brien Schofield, freshman Louis Nzegwu and junior Jeff Stehle

Starters departed: Right tackle Nick Hayden

Other key departures: End Kurt Ware and end Brandon Kelly

Injured Players: Dan Cascone, Jason Chapman, Kirk DeCremer, Mike Newkirk, Brandon Hoey

2007 position coach: Randall McCray

2008 position coach: Charles Patridge

Spring storylines:

Of all the units on the Wisconsin football team, no unit has been ravaged by injuries as much as the Badger defensive line.

Of the four returning defensive line starters that lined up in the Outback Bowl, only senior Matt Shaughnessy (6-foot-6, 253 pounds) is healthy and will participate during spring football workouts.

The first injury occurred when senior Jason Chapman sustained an ACL tear in the fourth quarter at Ohio State. Chapman, who finished the season with 26 tackles and two sacks, is rehabilitating doing hand and footwork drills during spring practice and is expected to be ready for fall camp.

Establishing himself at left end when Kurt Ware's chronic knee and leg problems forced him to miss most of his senior season, redshirt freshman Kirk DeCremer had an outstanding season, playing in all 13 games (starting the last two) and registered 30 tackles. Leading the team with 5.5 QB sacks, DeCremer received freshman All-American honors from numerous organizations. The only thing that could stop him, however, was numbing back pain, which DeCremer had surgery on after the season and is expected to recover by fall camp.

The latest victim of the injury bug was senior Mike Newkirk, who started at the end position the first 10 games and replace Chapman at tackle in the 2008 Outback Bowl - registering four tackles. Finishing the year with 41 total tackles and 10.5 for losses, Newkirk was expected to replace departed senior Nick Hayden at the tackle spot.

That changed during the first week of spring practice. Newkirk, who initially hurt his shoulder in the fall but played through the pain, re-injured it lifting weights in February.

During the first practice session, Newkirk re-injured his shoulder for a second time and missed the second half of the first and all of the second practice.

When the injury did not improve 48 hours after the second practice, Newkirk and the coaching staff decided to take care of the nagging injury sooner than later so he can take part in summer conditioning at the beginning of June.

Newkirk had surgery on Friday, March 14 and will be out six to eight weeks.

Shaughnessy started all 13 games at right end and was a consensus second-team All-Big Ten selection. Named UW's defensive MVP, Shaughnessy led the team in 18 tackles for losses, a mark that registered fourth in Big Ten and tied for 19th nationally (the 83 yards off those tackles was a school record). Leading all linemen with 60 tackles, Shaughnessy will be counted on to lead a youth movement on the line should Chapman, DeCremer or Newkirk struggle to return from their injuries.

But if the Badgers having three defensive line starters out weren't enough, UW's line reserves have problems, as well.

Dan Cascone had routine shoulder surgery when a disc slipped out of alignment last fall. Working in a reserve, reserve roll, Cascone worked through the Minnesota game and had surgery as soon as the regular season was complete. UW hopes he will be involved in summer conditioning.

The same can not be said about Brandon Hoey. Hoey did not play at all last year after suffering a serious back surgery halfway through the fall. UW coaches are going to progress Hoey back slowly and hopeful he'll be able to play again, but it's a possibility that he'll never play football again.

With all the injuries, however, they are a surplus of young underclassmen that are anxious to prove themselves.

Number one on the depth chart at left end is junior O'Brien Schofield (6-foot-3, 238 pounds). Playing primarily on the scout team and seeing action on special teams in all 13 games, Schofield earned his first career start at defensive end in the Outback Bowl and played admirably (three tackles and a forced fumble). Not a very tall or big guy, but a very aggressive, physical, quick player that will be an integral part in the defense.

Backing Schofield up during spring workouts will be sophomore Ricky Garner (6-foot-5, 238 pounds) and freshman Louis Nzegwu (6-foot-3, 231 pounds).

Garner missed all of last season after sustaining a knee injury in fall camp but was a very talented defensive end at John Muir H.S. in Pasadena, California, registering 113 tackles, 13 sacks and one touchdown.

Originally recruited as a running back (ranked the 53 running back by Scout in 2006) Nzegwu redshirted last season to improve his power, size and strength and has come into camp looking like an entirely different person.

With Chapman and Newkirk out, junior Jeff Stehle (6-foot-6, 298 pounds) has the most experience of any d-tackle. Playing in all 13 games in the line, Stehle was the primarily reserve for all four starters.

Backing up Stehle through spring workouts at the tackle position is a pair of redshirt freshmen – Patrick Butrym (a three-star recruit from Waukesha (WI)) and Jasper Grimes (two-star recruit from Palm Beach Gardens (FL)), both of whom spent most of their redshirt season in the weight room.

The wild card in the situation is JUCO recruit Dan Moore, who has been, by far, the most impressive young player. In only a handful of spring practices, Moore, who was one of four Badger recruits to enroll a semester early, had been blowing by offensive linemen, including five-star recruit Josh Oglesby. Moore's versatility and aggressiveness has landed him currently by Shaughnessy on the depth chart, but injuries at the tackle position could move Moore back to the position he played throughout his college and junior college career.

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