2007 Wisconsin Preview - Defense
Posted May 13, 2007

Preview 2007 Wisconsin Badger Defense Preview

Wisconsin Badgers

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Wisconsin Preview | 2007 UW Offense Preview
2007 UW Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Wisconsin Preview 

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.

Returning Leaders
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 Kurt Ware
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.

Defensive Line

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.

6-4, 206-pound 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 run.
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 major injuries.
Rating: 7


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 behind Hodge.

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.
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.
Rating: 8

Defensive Backs

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.

Senior Ben 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.
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 replaced.
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 right player.
Rating: 8.5

Special Teams

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.

Senior 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.
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 again.
Rating: 8


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