"We have a lot of young guys that people might not necessarily know about," sophomore defensive lineman J.J. Watt said of the new look and renewed motivation. "You can see that we have some young talent on the defensive line. Hopefully people are a little bit surprised by that and hopefully start to figure out that we have a good (defense) here."
Combine the turnover with the performance of the unit last season, there's reason for people to doubt Wisconsin's ability to stop the football. Although ranked 37th in the country in total defense, the numbers weren't kind to UW, as the defense ranked outside the top 50 nationally in scoring defense (66th), fumble recoveries (55th), interceptions (59th), sacks (72nd) and red zone defense (114th).
Those numbers mean little to Watt, who was forced to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. For him, the five new defensive starters and the six returning starters, Wisconsin's defense plans to be hitting people in the mouth from the opening kickoff on September 5.
"I hope (we stay under the radar for) one game," Watt said. "I hope people know about us after one game. We are going to come out strong and hope people recognize that UW's defense is one of the best in the country."
The one returning player, O'Brien Schofield, is going to be a key to the success of Wisconsin and their ability to contain people on the edges. Schofield has made huge strides this spring after his 40 tackle, five sack junior season and, as Bielema put it, "He's one of our better players and leaders."
He's also one of Wisconsin's better talkers, as he broke down UW's defensive line for Badger Nation.
"I'll start with senior Dan Moore, who is playing in the middle," Schofield said. "A transfer student that is a real big guy, real explosiveness and I am real excited to see him play. He has a motor to him and backing him up is sophomore Patrick Butrym. He's been here for awhile and he looks real strong with his pass rush things. Jeff Stehle is a fifth-year senior and he got some time behind Mike Newkirk and those guys. I am looking forward to him getting his chance to play because he has worked so hard. Freshman Brendan Kelly at the other end is a real hard worker and athletic and I am excited to see what he can do.
"Junior end Louis Nzegwu (who should be ready for the season after recovering from a torn right MCL) is a freak athlete and I am just waiting for him to put it all together with his knowledge of the game and learning the playbook. Behind me is Anthony Mains. He's not the biggest guy or the tallest guy on the team, but he still puts things together. He's going to be a pretty good player and can get off the line. We have a real good group."
One player Schofield failed to mention was true freshman David Gilbert, who graduated early from Northeast (Fla.) High School and enrolled in January. Although he is still undersized for a college defensive end at 225 pounds, Gilbert has put on 15 pounds since enrolling and has done so without losing any of his speed; quickness that made him a highly sought after recruit. Gilbert's frame allows for plenty of more weight and with a solid camp, should be involved in defensive line coach Charlie Partridge's seven/eight-man rotation.
Watt, a sophomore transfer who Head Coach Bret Bielema gave a full scholarship to the day before the spring game, is going to be an interesting player to watch for Wisconsin, as the coaching staff can utilize his size and strength at the defensive tackle position or take advantage of his speed and agility at the end position depending on the offense.
"They are a bunch of no names," Bielema said. "OB, Brendan Kelly and J.J. Watt are probably are top three defensive ends. I like the way that they have handled themselves off the football field. Inside, Dan Moore, Patrick Butrym and Jeff Stehle, those three guys are playing as good as they have played since they've been here. I don't know where that is, but hopefully those six guys give us solid (depth). Hopefully, we can have a couple more guys to give us a seven, eight-man rotation."
Fall Depth Chart:
So. J.J. Watt (6-6, 285)
Fr. Brendan Kelly (6-6, 240)
Sr. Dan Moore (6-2, 278)
So. Patrick Butrym (6-4, 280)
Sr. Jeff Stehle (6-6, 291)
Sr. Dan Cascone (6-3, 296)
Sr. O'Brien Schofield (6-3, 242)
So. Louis Nzegwu (6-3, 240)