2010 Wisconsin Preview – Defense
Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt
Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt
Posted Jun 15, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Wisconsin Badger Defense

Wisconsin Badgers

Preview 2010 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: The defense came up with a whale of a year, especially for three quarters of each game. There was a problem dropping the hammer late, allowing way too many teams way too many chances to come back, but the final numbers were terrific finishing 17th in the nation in total defense, fifth against the run (and first in the Big Ten), and tenth in the nation (and first in the Big Ten) in sacks. This year's defense might have some big replacements to make on the line, but there's good promise to quickly fill in the gaps with three new starters. The loss of pass rushing terror O'Brien Schofield will hurt, but J.J. Watt and Louis Nzegwu will get into the backfield from the outside. The linebacking corps could quietly be the best in the Big Ten, while the secondary has athleticism and experience; it just needs to be more consistent.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Culmer St. Jean, 63
Sacks: Chris Boland, 5
Interceptions: Niles Brinkley, Devin Smith, 2

Star of the defense: Sophomore LB Chris Borland
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DT Patrick Butrym
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman DT Jordan Kohout
Best pro prospect: Borland
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Borland, 2) DE J.J. Watt, 3) LB Culmer St. Jean
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Penetration
Weakness of the defense: Proven Linemen, Consistency

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: How do you replace O'Brien Schofield? The whirling dervish of a pass rusher made 12 sacks and finished third on the team with 62 tackles, and now it'll be up to junior Louis Nzegwu to become the new star of the show. In his little bit of time, the 6-4, 247-pound pass rusher made just ten tackles but he came up with three sacks taking advantage of his opportunities. While he's not the blur that Schofield was, Nzegwu is fast off the ball and has a good enough motor to make several plays behind the line.

The one returning starter on the front four is veteran J.J. Watt , a 6-6, 285-pound junior who had a nice year making 44 tackles with 4.5 sack and 15.5 tackles for loss, but he's expecting to do more. The former Central Michigan Chippewa walked on to the team and now is on the verge of all-star honors. More of a 3-4 end than a speed rusher in a 4-3, he's a tough, hard working player who never takes a play off and is a monster in the weight room. He's the unquestioned leader of the line.

Trying to become a factor on the inside is 6-3, 292-pound redshirt freshman Jordan Kohout , a big body with the talent to soon be the anchor. There was a thought that he could step in and play right away, but he ended up redshirting, got stronger, and now could be the team's top newcomer with smarts, strength, and just enough quickness to get into the backfield from time to time.

6-4, 293-pound Patrick Butrym was a key spot starter getting the call in the opening two games of the season and against Indiana. Part of a rotation, he made 24 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss, and while he's not a consistent interior pass rusher, he has the quickness to camp out in backfields from time to time. He's extremely athletic for his size.

Projected Top Reserves: Is Tyler Dippel ready? Just tough and feisty enough to play on the inside, and with enough hustle and athleticism to be a pass rusher on the outside, the 6-4, 252-pound redshirt freshman is over his torn ACL and will be a big part of the rotation with Louis Nzegwu. Extremely active and always working, he'll find his way into tackles with the ability to be a nice backup who provides a shot of energy when he gets on the field.

6-4, 279-pound sophomore Ericks Briedis was a nice get from Miami, and after missing time with a neck problem he's expected to be a factor on the inside. While he's not huge, he's strong and quick enough to chase down ball carriers. He'll work behind Patrick Butrym but can play either tackle spot.

At 6-6 and 291 pounds, redshirt freshman Ethan Hemer is the biggest body who'll be in the rotation on the inside. The team's Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year, he's ready to stuff things up on the inside. While he's not a top talent, the former walk-on has gotten more muscular and less blubby, and he'll get his chances to be a major factor.

Sophomore David Gilbert was a great special teamer making six tackles with a blocked kick and a recovered fumble, and now he'll get his chance to bring speed to the outside. While he's not going to do too much against the run, the 6-4, 237-pounder should be a bit of a pass rushing specialist working in a rotation with J.J. Watt.

Watch Out For … the tackles. The call has gone out for the tackles to step up their play and prove that they're not going to be the weakness of a strong all-around team. The ends are going to be good and there are decent options for the inside, but the coaching staff is putting the pressure on the guys in the interior to shine right away.
Strength: Motors. This has been the team's main plus over the last few years. O'Brien Schofield combined talent with a non-stop motor and a hard working element that made him special. This year's line is full of players who'll be going full tilt all the time, and while the talent might not be special, want-to isn't a problem.
Weakness: Tackles. Kohout has the potential to be a star and Butrym is going to be a good one, but for a team that has the talent on the offense and the back seven to be just good enough to be in the national title hunt, it'll all come apart if the tackles aren't terrific.
Outlook: If nothing else, the line has a serious attitude after hearing all offseason how much it's going to struggle. Everyone's saying that the line will be the weak link and everyone is assuming this is going to be a problem with a lack of overall talent and with just one starter returning from the nation's No. 5 run defense and top pass rushing unit. No, there isn't an O'Brien Schofield to count on, but there should be a decent rotation at both spots and the line should be able to hold its own. As long as the line is above average, everything will be fine.
Unit Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: The loss of the team's top tacklers, Jaevery McFadden, would be a problem if it wasn't for the return of sophomore Mike Taylor , a productive starter for the first seven games of last year before suffering a knee injury. The 6-2, 211-pound speedster made 45 tackles with an interception, a sack, and 6.5 tackles for loss before getting hurt, and staying healthy isn't a given. Built more like a defensive back, but a bulked up one, he has had problems with a hamstring as well as his knee, and he has to prove he can hold up for a full season on the strongside.

Back after finishing second on the team in tackles is Culmer St. Jean , a 6-0, 232-pound senior who started off his career as a top special teamer and grew into the starting role. Extremely athletic, he's a terror who gets all over the field and does a little of everything well. He can get into the backfield from time to time, making 1.5 sacks and four tackles for loss, and he picked off a pass and broke up four passes. The veteran from Naples is a great worker who doesn't take a play off.

A cult hero after a extraordinary true freshman season, Chris Borland is an all-over-the-field playmaker who hits like a ton of bricks and always seems to be around the ball making big things happen on defense and the special teams. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year made 54 tackles with five sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss while coming up with five forced fumbles and three recoveries. Tremendously athletic with 5-11, 232-pound size, he's a guided missile to the ball and should blossom as an even better pass rusher on the weakside once he gets past a shoulder problem.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Blake Sorensen is a versatile defender who can work either in the middle or on the strongside. At 6-1 and 227 pounds, he's not all that big and he's not all that fast, but he produces whenever he's on the field making 40 tackles with a sack and an interception. He got the start late in the year against Hawaii and was steady as a part of the rotation throughout the rest of the year. The Academic All-Big Ten performer is a terrific backup and can step in and pick up the slack whenever needed.

At 6-1 and 218 pounds, beefed up defensive back Kevin Claxton can do a little bit of everything on the strongside. "The Hybrid" made just nine tackles in his little bit of time, but he has the speed and the ability to become a dangerous pass rusher from the strongside and be excellent in pass coverage. The coaching staff wanted to find a spot for him, and now he should be a good part of the outside rotation.

Junior Kevin Rouse only made one tackle in his four appearances, but he was banged up for most of the year and never got much of a shot. Considered a top prospect when he signed on in 2008, the 6-0, 228-pounder has the toughness to play on the inside and the quickness and athleticism to be used as a pass rusher. A tough option for the middle, he has been a great tackler in practice. Now that he's healthy, he should be a key factor as the understudy behind Culmer St. Jean.

Watch Out For … more pass rushing. It's not that the line can't get into the backfield on its own, but it's not going to be nearly as good without O'Brien Schofield. The linebackers are experienced enough and athletic enough to be able to fly into the backfield at any time.
Strength: Tackling. The Badger linebackers don't miss stops. St. Jean is a rock on the inside, and Boland flattens anything that moves. This is an active corps that always gets around the ball and should be more disruptive this year.
Weakness: Jaevery McFadden. Outside of Borland, it would be nice if a star could emerge to pick up the slack for the loss of McFadden. The Badgers have good veterans, but McFadden was a playmaker who was able to come up with big stop time after time in the open field.
Outlook: Borland is quickly growing into a Badger legend, St. Jean is a underappreciated veteran, and Taylor should be great now that he's ready to go. This might not seem like the flashiest linebacking corps around, but it'll be productive and extremely steady. If Claxton can shine in his new role, there will be several interesting and disruptive options to play around with.
Unit Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: The Badger secondary should cover like there are four corners on the field, and that's because there will be. Junior Aaron Henry suffered a torn ACL a few years ago that took two seasons to get back to normal missing the entire 2008 season. He started three times last year, but he struggled with his consistency making 18 tackles with four broken up passes. The 6-0, 202-pound former cornerback has next-level speed and tremendous athleticism, but he wasn't back to his pre-injury form and seemed to lack focus at times. However, he's a great tackler and has the potential to grow into a whale of a free safety looking like a natural at times this offseason.

5-9, 200-pound senior Jay Valay came up with a decent year, but not a great one making 51 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss, an interception, and four broken up passes. A great hitter for his size and excellent in the open field, he has the skills and the experience, but he needs to be far more consistent and he has to use his corner speed to get around the field a bit more. Fully past the back problem that kept him down a few years ago, he needs to be a steadying force.

Junior Devin Smith ended up taking over the starting job in fall camp before last season. He started every game finishing fourth on the team with 55 tackles with two picks and a team-leading nine broken up passes, but like all the Badger defensive backs last season, he wasn't consistent. At 5-11 and 186 pounds he has good size with excellent speed and great open field tackling ability. Now he has to play like a No. 1 corner.

Trying to take over a starting corner job is rising junior Antonio Fenelus , a promising 5-9, 190-pound speedster who struggled way too much. A star on special teams as a freshman, he started in the middle of the season but had so many problems that he went back to the bench for the finishing kick. While he made 35 tackles, he only came up with one interception and didn't do nearly enough when the ball was in the air. He'll get another chance at the starting right corner job, but unless he makes more big plays and doesn't get beaten on a regular basis, he'll be a key backup again.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Niles Brinkley will likely end up starting again sooner than later. The 5-10, 191-pound veteran started six times last year, but he had a hamstring problem this offseason and he has to still prove he can be stronger game in and game out. While he made 38 tackles with two interceptions and four broken up passes, and he has been good over the last two years, he has yet to be great. If he's not starting, he'll be a very good, very dangerous, ball-hawking nickel back.

The secondary needs sophomore Marcus Cromartie to do more. The 6-1, 185-pounder was a good recruit for the Badgers two seasons ago, but he only made one tackle last season and he was mediocre in practices this offseason. He has excellent size and the raw skills to be a good corner, but he needs refinement and more playing time.

Ready to make an impact is big-hitting (at least in practices) sophomore Shelton Johnson, who at 6-0 and 182 pounds is a natural safety with the speed to have good range and playmaking potential at free safety. He saw enough playing time to at least be used to being on the field, but he didn't come up with any tackles.

Part linebacker, part safety, 6-0, 200-pound Conor O'Neal is a big hitting prospect from Florida with the smarts and the toughness to eventually be one of the team's leading tacklers and the leader at strong safety. The redshirt freshman might not have great range, but he's a sure tackler who got practice time in before the bowl game and could quickly become a factor.

Watch Out For … Henry. Chris Maragos wasn't just the captain of the secondary, he was a ball hawking free safety who always seemed to be around the big play and always set the tone with his timely play. Henry could be better. There will be some rough patches, but he has the ability to be a natural for the spot. However, he'll needs a little bit of seasoning.
Strength: Coverage abilities. Wisconsin corners can always tackle in the open field and they're always physical, and with safeties with corner skills and corners with tremendous abilities, there will be games when the veteran secondary shuts passing games down.
Weakness: Consistency. The Badger secondary made Fresno State quarterback Ryan Colburn look like the second coming of David Carr, but didn't give up a thing to Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor. Closing out was a problem; it was almost like the secondary turned the switch off just when the opposing team was at its most desperate. If the defensive backs can play as well in the fourth quarter as they do in the first, everything will be fine.
Outlook: There's excellent athleticism, good experience, and nice upside … and now everyone needs to be coached up. It's like there's one piece of the puzzle missing, and that might be new secondary coach Chris Ash, who's expected to refine everyone's technique and improve the overall consistency. As long as the pass rush continues to be good, the secondary has the potential to be great.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Junior Phillip Welch was a Lou Groza Award semifinalist in 2008 after hitting 20-of-24 field goals, and while he regressed a bit connecting on 17-of-24 attempts last year including a 57 yarder against Fresno State. He got hot as the year went on, regaining his form hitting eight of his final nine attempts. Five of his seven misses came from beyond 40 yards including misses from 55 and 57 yards away.

While the net punting numbers aren't phenomenal, junior Brad Nortman has been a nice performer over the last two seasons. After averaging 41.8 yards per kick as a freshman, he averaged 42 yards per kick last season and has put 36 kicks inside the 20 over the last two seasons. While he doesn't have a booming leg and he doesn't hang it up high enough, he's good enough to be a fringe all-star.

Wide receiver David Gilreath is an elite kick returner who needs to consistently play like an elite kick returner. With tremendous speed and quickness, he has to average more than 5.6 yards per punt return (after averaging 8.8 yards per try in 2008). However, he improved as a kickoff returner averaging 23.7 yards per try after averaging 19.6 yards per pop two years ago.

Watch Out For … Gilreath to be special. With years of experience and even more focus from the coaching staff on special teams, he'll be a top-shelf punt returner as well as a kickoff returner.
Strength: The kicking game. Welch and Nortman are as reliable as they come. They have decent legs, they're clutch, and they've gone through just enough adversity to know how to get past the rough patches.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. The Badgers might as well have tried a bunch of onside kicks. Only Washington State was worse at covering kickoffs as UW allowed a whopping 26.39 yards per return.
Outlook: The Badger coaching staff does a good job of plugging up the leaks with an offseason to work, and it has to do something about the kick and punt coverage teams. The kicking game will be terrific, Gilreath will be a weapon, and the special teams will be a plus most of the time.
Unit Rating: 8

- 2010 Wisconsin Preview | 2010 Wisconsin Offense
- 2010 Wisconsin Defense | 2010 Wisconsin Depth Chart
- Wisconsin Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006