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2009 Wisconsin Preview - Defense
Wisconsin DE O'Brien Schofield
Wisconsin DE O'Brien Schofield
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 5, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Wisconsin Badger Defense

Wisconsin Badgers

Preview 2009 - Defense


- 2009 CFN Wisconsin Preview | 2009 Wisconsin Offense
- 2009 Wisconsin Defense
| 2009 Wisconsin Depth Chart
- 2008 UW Preview | 2007 UW Preview
| 2006 CFN UW Preview 

What you need to know: The final numbers turned out to be better than the actual production. There wasn’t much of a pass rush, the defense almost never came up clutch (Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State), and tackling when things started to go south (Iowa, Penn State. Florida State) were all major issues for a coaching staff and a program that lives off a tough image. However, while last year’s star-studded defense of veterans severely underachieved, the opposite could end up being true this year with a no-name bunch that could turn out to be terrific. The linebacking corps will be the strength with Jaevery McFadden moving from the inside out and Culmer St. Jean stepping up in the middle to form a strong tandem to get excited about. The secondary is full of veterans and options, helped by the return of Aaron Henry after missing all of last year healing up his torn ACL. The line doesn’t have anyone who’ll scare offenses on paper, outside of end O’Brien Schofield, but the coaching staff is high on the tackles that could end up being a big surprise.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jaevery McFadden, 84
Sacks: O’Brien Schofield, 5
Interceptions: Niles Brinkley 4

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

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: 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 Holiday.

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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness
:
Pure 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.
Outlook: 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. 
Rating: 6.5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: 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 the pass.

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.

Projected 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 strongside.

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 recognition.
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.
Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: 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.

Senior 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 championship level.
 
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.

Devin Smith 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.

Senior Aubrey 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 defense.
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.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: 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.  

Sophomore Brad 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.

Junior WR 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.
Strength: Big 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.
Outlook: Teams 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.
Rating: 8