Star of the defense:
Senior LB Jaevery McFadden
Player who has to step up and
become a star: Senior DT Dan Moore
Unsung star on the
rise: Junior LB Culver St. Jean
Best pro prospect:
Senior DE O’Brien Schofield
Top three all-star candidates:
1) McFadden, 2) Schofield, 3) St. Jean
Strength of the
defense: Linebackers, Safety
Weakness of the defense:
Tackling, Pass Rush
The line returns just one starter, but he’s a good one. Senior
O’Brien Schofield is
an extremely quick 6-3, 242-pound former linebacker who tied for
the team lead with five sacks to go along with 8.5 tackles for
loss and 40 tackles. Consistent, he has produced throughout the
year, but he hasn’t come up with a breakout, jaw-dropping game.
That should change this year as the team’s main pass rushing
option and with the motor to consistently get into the
backfield. He's cousins with NFL players Bobby Engram and Vonnie
Taking over on the other side will be
J.J. Watt, a former
Central Michigan Chippewa who walked on the team and was so
consistent and disruptive as a scout teamer that he’s now a
scholarship player and a starter. At 6-6 and 285 pounds he’s
huge for end, but he’s more of a 3-4 end than a speed rusher in
a 4-3. He’ll get into the backfield on occasion on want-to, but
he’s not likely going to be a top producer into the backfield.
6-6, 291-pound senior
Jeff Stehle is one of the team’s bigger linemen and he has
to eat up space on the inside. A reserve so far, he made 12
tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss in his limited
time. While he’s not a special talent, he’s good enough to
become a strong, unsung anchor for everyone to work around.
Senior Dan Moore
will be a part of a rotation at tackle after spending last year
as a key reserve. The former JUCO transfer is 6-2 and 278 pounds
with decent quickness and athleticism, but he didn’t show off
his skills enough last year with no sacks and three tackles for
loss. Decent against the run, he made 19 tackles, but he’s
expected to do more to get into the backfield.
Projected Top Reserves: Rotating with Dan Moore at one
tackle spot will be
Patrick Butrym, a 6-4, 280-pound sophomore who saw a little
bit of time in every game and made five tackles. While he’ll
likely start out the year as a backup, that might be in
definition only. With his size and his interior quickness, he’ll
play as much as any of the other tackles and will be the star of
the interior next year.
It’s not a question of if but
when 6-6, 240-pound redshirt freshman
Brendan Kelly takes
over one of the end spots. He saw a little bit of time in three
games, making five tackles, before suffering a non-disclosed
season-ending injury, but he was active and productive this
offseason. While he’ll be in a rotation with J.J. Watt on one
side, he’ll eventually take over the job if he can be a pass
rusher early on.
Watch Out For ...
Schofield. The rest of the line is just decent enough to take
the pressure off Schofield on one side. He’s a strong pass
rusher with tremendous quickness who could go from good to
phenomenal in the bat of an eye.
Motors. You’ve heard of the term game manager for mediocre
quarterbacks who find ways to get the job done; that’s sort of
what this line will be. There isn’t a lot to get excited about,
and there isn’t any star power, but it’s a decent group that’ll
plug its way to be solid.
talent. There isn’t much. The coaching staff is high on the
tackle rotation, but they’ll get by on motor more than skill.
There’s just enough size and ability to be more than fine
against the average teams, but there will be problems against
any O line with a measure of talent.
The line didn’t quite produce as expected last year and there
was little to no pass rush to count on. This year, three
starters need to be replaced and there’s nothing to be too fired
up about unless O’Brien Schofield turns into a pass rushing
phenom in his senior year. There will be a decent enough tackle
rotation to get by, and J.J. Watt and Brendan Kelly will be a
good combination at one end, but this could be the team’s most
questionable unit. It could surprise and be terrific, but it’ll
more likely just be average.
The loss of Jonathan Casillas from the weakside might be
crippling if Jaevery
McFadden wasn’t there to take over after spending last year
in the middle. The 6-3, 226-pound senior led the team with 84
tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss with the speed to be a decent
pass defender and the range to get in on every tackle. Now that
he’ll have more space to work he should be even more dangerous.
In a more natural position, he can use his speed and athleticism
to make even more big plays both in the backfield and against
With McFadden moving to the middle, it’ll give
a chance for Culmer St.
Jean to step into a starting spot after spending the last
few years as a top special teamer and a good backup making 23
tackles with an interception. At 6-1 and 235 pounds, the junior
is bigger than McFadden and almost as athletic. He was a terror
in spring ball and, barring injury, will be one of the team’s
top three tacklers.
Taking over for DeAndre Levy on the
strongside will be Blake Sorensen, a 6-1, 230-pound junior who isn’t going to be an
elite playmaker, but he’s not going to make too many mistakes,
either. He’s a tough inside linebacker who’d be better suited
for the middle if he was a little bit bigger. While he only made
14 tackles with two tackles for loss last season, he should be
one of the team’s steadiest defenders.
Top Reserves: Sophomore
Kevin Rouse was arguably the best of the backups throughout spring
ball, but he still needs more playing time before he’s a
finished product. Athletic but undersized, the 6-0, 229-pound
sophomore has the potential to be a decent option on the
weakside behind Jaevery McFadden with great tackling ability.
Redshirt freshman Michael
Taylor has the talent to be a key playmaker if he can ever
stay healthy. The 6-2, 215-pounder is built more like a
defensive back and is a fantastic tackler, but he wasn’t able to
do much for the scout team last year and has had problems with a
hamstring injury this offseason. Even so, he’ll be a key part of
the outside linebacker rotation, likely working mostly on the
6-1, 233-pound redshirt freshman
Leonard Hubbard will
play on the inside behind Culmer St. Jean. One of the team’s top
recruits last year, Hubbard is a tackling machine with good
range and a nose to get to the ball. He’ll get a year of
seasoning in the rotation, and could probably see time on the
strongside, but he’ll be a factor.
Watch Out For
... St. Jean. He had a hard time cracking the lineup last
year, but when he did, he produced. Now he has the starting job
all to himself in the middle and could flirt with all-star
Strength: Tackling. This was a
HUGE problem for last year’s linebacking corps with too many
missed stops and not enough plays at the point of attack. That
should change this season with McFadden in a better position and
St. Jean seeing more of a role. St. Jean won’t get bowled over
Weakness: Backup experience. There’s talent and upside
on the second team, at least more so than at some of the other
positions, but there isn’t a lot of experience. The linebacking
corps should be fine, but it could take a little while.
Outlook: The linebackers produced good numbers last
season and were fine against the average offenses, but when push
came to shove, they got shoved. This won’t be a more talented
group without DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas, but it could
be more effective now that Jae McFadden is on the outside
instead of the middle and Culmer St. Jean gets to play more of a
role. McFadden is the only senior among the top options and
there’s room to get better for next year, but as is, this could
quietly be one of the team’s strengths.
The hope was for Aaron
Henry to come back from a torn ACL and be back to his old
self last year. It didn’t happen as he needed a year to heal up.
When he was right, he had next-level speed and tremendous
athleticism with the potential to become a No. 1, shut-down
cover corner. The 6-0, 197-pound sophomore made 38 tackles and
3.5 sacks with an interception two years ago, and while he might
not be the exact same athlete he was pre injury, he’s still
active enough to be an excellent starter who simply might need a
bit more time.
On the other side will be
Niles Brinkley, a
5-10, 180-pound junior who’ll likely get the start on the left
side after making 40 tackles with a team-leading four
interceptions and nine broken up passes. Mostly a special teamer
before last season, he’s extremely quick and he isn’t afraid to
be physical. With two interceptions against Marshall he came up
big when teams challenged him, and now he has to be more
consistent when the ball is in the air.
Trying to return
from back surgery is Jai
Valai, a 5-9, 200-pound junior who made 56 tackles with a
sack and four tackles for loss at strong safety. While he might
not be all that big, he’s a great hitter for his size who has
proven to be tough enough to handle the job. However, he tends
to go for the kill shot a bit too much at the expense of making
the sure-thing play. Quick enough to be a corner, he has to
start making more plays against the pass and has to start
picking off passes.
Chris Maragos started
out his career at Western Michigan before transferring over to
Wisconsin, his dream school. Originally a little used receiver,
he turned out to be a nice defensive back making 45 tackles with
an interception, taken for 51 yards, against Illinois. Even
though he worked hard and wasn’t bad at times, he was extremely
raw and very inconsistent. Now he’s expected to be far better
and far sharper at free safety and he’s expected to keep the
mistakes to a minimum. He’s getting the subtleties down a bit
better. Speed isn’t an issue; he was a star Wisconsin high
school sprinter who ran the 100 and 200 meters at a state
Projected Top Reserves: Senior
Shane Carter had a rough season at free safety after making seven
interceptions and 56 tackles in 2007. He made 37 stops and two
picks last year, but he was suspended for the Champs Sports Bowl
and struggled with his consistency on the field getting burned
way too often and missing too many tackles. He’s 6-2 and 202
pounds with more talent than Chris Maragos, so there’s a chance
the brother of former NFL star, Cris Carter, could quickly take
back his starting spot if he can regain his old form.
didn’t do much last season outside of his work on the kickoff
team, but now he’s about to make an impact at corner in a
rotation with Niles Brinkley. The 5-11, 187-pound sophomore has
excellent speed and is a physical open field tackler in
practices. Now his skills need to translate to the field.
Pleasant has had a hard time throughout his career staying
healthy, but he managed to play in every game last season making
26 tackles in his backup safety role. He’s a key fifth defender
in nickel packages and is more than good enough to start if Jay
Valai struggles at strong safety.
Junior Mario Goins made 20 tackles and broke up a pass in his time as a
spot starter last year, but the 6-1, 186-pound corner was
suspended from spring practice and has to fight his way back
into the team’s good graces. He has good straight-line speed and
could be used a bit as a pass rusher if needed. Now he has to do
more against the pass to prove he deserves time.
Watch Out For ...Henry. While he still needs a little
bit of time to get his timing and his game down, he has the
talent to grow back into a role as a top defender.
Strength: The statistics. The secondary might not have
been full of stars, but it did enough to have a nice year
against the pass. It didn’t always come through in the clutch,
but it was good enough to finish fourth in the Big Ten in pass
Weakness: The statistics. There might
be a false sense of security after putting up decent numbers.
The Badgers were able to keep Michigan, Cal Poly and Indiana to
under 150 passing yards, and kept Iowa to 144 because Shonn
Greene and the ground game ran wild. Eight teams threw for over
200 yards on the UW D.
Outlook: The secondary
should be just good enough to not be a liability. The corners
are going to be a major strength going into next year, when
everyone comes back, but there’s a little work to do with Aaron
Henrly, Niles Brinkley and Devin Smith all on the verge of being
good. The safeties should be excellent in a little bit of time
if Shane Carter can be more consistent and if Jay Valai can do a
bit more to make the routine plays.
Sophomore Philip Welch came up with a great year finishing as a Lou Groza
Award semifinalist after connecting on 20-of-24 field goals.
With a great midrange leg, hitting 9-of-11 shots from beyond 40
yards, he was excellent throughout the season except in a few
key situations. He missed a big 44 yarder in the one-point loss
to Michigan State, a 34-yard kick in the two point loss to
Michigan, and he missed a 50 yarder that would’ve helped in the
tight win over Fresno State.
Nortman came up with a nice first season averaging 41.8
yards per kick pitting 19 inside the 20. He was a pleasant
surprise as a true freshman and has the potential to be an
all-star with a little bit more hang time and with a bit more
help from his coverage team.
David Gilreath is an
elite kick returning talent who struggled last year. He averaged
a decent 8.8 yards per punt return but never got room to move on
kickoff returns and averaged a mere 19.6 yards per try. He’ll be
better. He’s too good not to be.
Watch Out For
... the kicking game to be among the best in the nation.
Welch and Nortman are just scratching the surface on how good
they can become. If they can be just a little better in the
clutch, they’ll each be elite.
legs. Having a kicker who can be counted on from beyond 40 yards
is a major luxury in the college game, while having a punter who
can blast away for over 50 yards when needed is huge.
Weakness: Kickoff returns. Wisconsin isn’t going to be
dead-last in the nation in kickoff returns again, Gilreath is
too good, but the production was abysmal last season averaging
17.14 yards per try as a team.
spent last season avoiding David Gilreath on kick and punt
returns, and Wisconsin never adjusted. Expect that to change
this season and the return game to be better, while punter Brad
ortman and kicker Philip Welch should be excellent.