Preview 2007 - Defense
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What you need to know: Seven starters return to the Big
Ten's best defense that finished fifth in the country. The
corners will be terrific with Jack Ikegwuonu and Allen Langford
back on the nation's second best pass defense (and first in pass
efficiency defense), but the safeties have to be replaced. Shane
Carter is a future star at free safety, but strong safety is a
question mark. The front seven might not have any sure-thing
stars, but it'll be terrific as long as Elijah Hodge plays up to
his potential in the middle. The overall depth is talented, even
though it's young and relatively untested.
Tackles: Jonathan Casillas, 83
Sacks: DeAndre Levy, 6
Interceptions: Allen Langford, 3
Star of the defense: Junior CB Jack Ikegwuonu
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior DE
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Elijah Hodge
Best pro prospect: Junior DT Nick Hayden
Top three all-star candidates: 1)
Ikegwuonu, 2) DE Matt Shaughnessy, 3) LB Jonathan Casillas
Strength of the defense: Cornerback, outside linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Overall youth, linebacker size.
Projected Starters: The strength of the
Badger line will be at tackle, where junior Jason Chapman and
senior Nick Hayden return after very good, very unnoticed
seasons. The 6-4, 289-pound Chapman has had to work hard on getting
bigger and stronger, and while he's not necessarily a space-eater, he's
tough against the run and a solid interior pass rusher with five sacks
last season to go along with 25 tackles. The 300-pound Hayden has
starter 26 straight games getting a little bit of all-star recognition.
He made 37 tackles last year, but he didn't do much to get into the
backfield after making 5.5 sacks in 2005.
The Badgers need more of a pass rush, and the hope will be for 6-6,
242-pound junior Matt Shaughnessy to be even better now that he's
had a full year to recover from the torn ACL suffered at the end of
2005. He was great last year making 35 tackles, four sacks and six
tackles for loss on the way to a second-team All-Big Ten season, and now
he should be even better on the right side.
6-4, 282-pound senior
Kurt Ware will take over on the left side after making ten tackles
and 1.5 tackles for loss in a reserve role. He's like a tackle playing
end, but he's been a disappointment so far in his career considering his
measurables and potential.
Projected Top Reserves: While Chapman and Hayden
are firmly entrenched as starters, junior Mike Newkirk is in the
rotation early and will see starter's time in some games. He's an
undersized 263 pounds, but he's active making 29 tackles with two sacks
and 4.5 tackles for loss.
Looking to see time behind Ware on the left
side will be senior Brandon Kelly, a ranger 6-4, 255-pounder who
has great athleticism, but hasn't been able to break through yet and
become a regular contributor.
On the right side, behind Shaughnessy,
will be 6-5, 239-pound redshirt freshman Kirk DeCremer, an
impressive scout team performer last season and a fantastic athlete.
He's the potential pass rushing specialist the line could use, but he
needs seasoning both in the weight room and on the field.
senior Jamal Cooper got his academics in order and got back on
the team this spring. At his size, health is always a problem getting
beaten on as an end, but he's a tremendous speed rusher making four
sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss along with 18 stops.
Watch Out For ... the coaching staff to do everything
possible to get several young, untested players some meaningful time all
across the line. More options need to be developed.
Strength: The tackle trio of Chapman, Hayden and
Newkirk. These three will be solid in a rotation that should be great
against the run. There's good size on the outside to help against the
Weakness: Fourth tackle, second end. If Ware doesn't start
playing up to his size and talent, and if Cooper can't stay healthy, and
if DeCremer isn't ready, the Badgers will have a hard time finding a
consistent pass rush. The top three tackles are excellent, but there
needs to be a fourth.
Outlook: The Badger line came into its own last
season after an injury-plagued 2005. While this is a good line that
won't be a weakness by any stretch, there isn't an All-Big Ten caliber
killer to revolve around. There are several very good defenders forming
a line that should be solid against the run as long as there aren't any
Projected Starters: The linebackers have
the potential to be excellent if sophomore Elijah Hodge can
quickly step in for leading tackler Mark Zalewski in the middle. He's a
strong 232 pounds, extremely smart, a huge hitter, and now he appears to
be ready to become a top producer after making 25 tackles and two sacks.
He's the brother of former Iowa all-star, Abdul Hodge.
Back on the strongside is 6-3, 233-pound junior DeAndre Levy, who cranked out
50 tackles and a team-leading six sacks. Able to play either outside
linebacker spot, he runs extremely well and is a terrific pass rusher
when he gets the chance.
Returning to the weakside is 212-pound junior
Jonathan Casillas, an honorable mention All-Big Ten performer who
was third on the team with 83 tackles to go along with 12.5 tackles for
loss. He was good last season as a true sophomore, but now he should be
special, and even more disruptive, with two seasons under his belt.
Projected Top Reserves: 224-pound sophomore
Jaevery McFadden brings a little more size to the weakside than
Casillas, but he's not nearly the same athlete. A special teamer through
most of last year making ten tackles, he's a great talent who appears
ready to play a key role in the rotation.
Redshirt freshman Culmer
St. Jean is a smallish strongside defender at 220 pounds, but he can
move. He's a terrific athlete who could emerge as a great pass rusher.
248-pound junior Josh Neal was almost exclusively a special
teamer finishing with just one tackle. He's a big tackler in the middle
On the way is true freshman Kevin Rouse, a
220-pound guided missile who could quickly find a spot on the outside.
Watch Out For ... the backups to quickly develop into
a strength. While McFadden, St. Jean and Neal won't necessarily push for
starting spots, there's extremely promising. They looked the like
veteran in spring ball.
Strength: The reserves. There should be a good
rotation allowing for some to become specialists, like St. Jean, who
might develop into a star on pure passing downs.
Weakness: Size. While it hasn't been a problem over the last few
years, it would be nice if there were a few 250 pounders to rely on
against stronger running teams. The corps makes up for the lack of bulk
with quickness and toughness, but they could all stand to be stronger
against the run.
Outlook: Somewhat quietly, this will be a good
group that should be excellent as the season goes on as long as Hodge
becomes the rock in the middle as expected. The backups can all play,
but they'll need time early on to develop their roles. Expect plenty of
big plays in the backfield and lots of swarming to the ball.
Projected Starters: The secondary will
revolve around the corners, possibly the best in the Big Ten, led by
All-America candidate Jack Ikegwuonu. He's big, physical, and
very, very fast making 41 tackles on the year with two interceptions and
11 broken up passes. He made a national name for himself by chasing down
Arkansas star running back Darren McFadden, and now the spotlight will
be on him all season long when he matches up against the top receivers
in the league.
On the left side will once against be junior Allen
Langford after leading the team with three interceptions to go along
with 35 tackles. He's a quick defender who should flourish with all the
work coming his way; everyone will stay away from Ikegwuonu.
The safety situation is a bit of a question mark, but free safety should
be set with the emergence of 6-2, 204-pound sophomore Shane Carter.
The sky's the limit on how good he can be with the speed of a corner and
great hitting ability. Now he has to stay healthy after being limited to
just three games last season. If nothing else, he has a good coach off
the field in his brother, former NFL star, Cris Carter.
Strong safety is
far less settled, but 206-pound sophomore Aubrey Pleasant has the
size, strength, and range to be a top tackler if he can stay healthy,
something he wasn't able to do last year.
Projected Top Reserves: The X factor for the
secondary might be sophomore Kim Royston, a smallish 5-11,
185-pounder who made eight tackles with an interception as a reserve. He
has to do far more when the ball is in the air, but he's been good
enough this off-season to potentially take over the strong safety job.
Redshirt freshman Jay Valai, who's physical enough
to play strong safety and quick enough to see time at free safety. He
hasn't done enough to show he could be a starter and could quickly be
out of the mix of Royston switches positions.
At corner, sophomore
Josh Nettles is a rising prospect who needs a little more time
before he becomes a star. While he's not big at 5-10 and 176 pounds,
he's a terrific athlete with excellent quickness.
Strickland isn't going to push for a starting spot, but he'll be a
nice reserve on the right side behind Ikeqwuonu. The only senior in the
rotation, he's a good all-around veteran to rely on with 17 tackles and
three broken up passes last season.
Watch Out For ... free safety to be an issue for a
while. The coaching staff has made it clear that there needs to be more
from the position, so it could be Valai there this fall if Carter and
Royston don't step up their play.
Strength: Cornerback. Throw Nettles into the mix
along with a veteran in Strickland, and the Badgers are loaded.
Ikegwuonu has the potential to be a top 100 NFL draft pick, while
Langford is rock-solid.
Weakness: Veteran safeties. This was the nation's second best
pass defense last season, and it wasn't just because of the corners.
Joel Stellmacher and Roderick Rogers were playmakers and won't easily be
Outlook: Yeah, UW was second behind Virginia Tech
in pass defense and first in the nation in pass efficiency defense, but
it didn't exactly face a who's who of top quarterbacks. Even so, there
was one 200-yard passing game allowed, and it happened to come in the
one loss of the season (Michigan). The corners will be excellent, Carter
will grow into the job at free safety, and eventually, the strong safety
spot will end up being fine. It just might take a while to find the
Projected Starters: Big-legged senior
Taylor Mehlhaff had a second straight strong season hitting 15 of 20
field goals including two of three from beyond 50 yards. He has range
from just under 55 yards and will be a godsend on kickoffs.
punter Ken DeBauche is one of the best in the nation, even if he
didn't always show it last season averaging 41.8 yards per kick putting
15 inside the 20 and forcing 11 fair catches. While many punters would
kill for those numbers, DeBauche was too inconsistent and didn't air it
out nearly as much as he should've.
Watch Out For ... DeBauche to bounce back and have an
All-America caliber season. He has too big a leg and is far too good to
not be one of the nation's leaders. Keep in mind, it's all relative
here; UW led the Big Ten in net punting and DeBauche will kick in the
NFL for ten years.
Strength: Big legs. Mehlhaff and DeBauche have
cannons that can bail the team out of some major jams. They've been
around long enough to not be fazed by anything.
Weakness: Kickoff returns, kickoff returns, kickoff returns.
Wait until late this fall before the Badgers decide on who'll get the
job after an abysmal season finishing last in the nation averaging 15
yards per try. The punt return game was no prize, either, averaging 6.58
yards per try. For now. WR Luke Swan will handle the punts and Josh
Nettles the kickoff returns.
Outlook: The kicking game will be among the best
in the nation if Mehlhaff can be a little more consistent, while the
return game can't be any worse. Wisconsin has been known for great
returners over the years, and there's now way it'll be that bad