(As Fall Camp approaches us faster than you’d think, we take a look at what to expect from each position group heading in to camp in our “Fall Camp Preview” series)
Last season was a transitional year of sorts along the Wisconsin Badgers’ defensive line. Gone were three previous starters and returning were two major backups and a host of young and promising players.
This group has much of the same feel in 2015, but this group will be very inexperienced outside of one returning starter and a major backup or two coming back. Add in some more youth and you have a group that is going to be very interesting to watch.
Previous Previews: Quarterback |
As fall camp rolls around, there are plenty of questions needing answers for this group, including sorting out who is playing where and which newcomers will affect the depth chart the most.
Let’s take a look at one of the most intriguing and scary position groups heading in to 2015.
What We Know: There isn’t a whole lot known about this group to be honest, and that’s because only one full-time starter returns — defensive end Chikwe Obasih. Wisconsin will look to replace starting nose tackle Warren Herring with junior Arthur Goldberg and defensive end Konrad Zagzebski with sophomore Alec James.
Luckily, injuries to Herring and Zagzebski gave both Goldberg and James significant minutes and even a start or two or three. Goldberg appeared much more reliable on the inside as the season went along, and actually ended last season as the leading defensive lineman in tackles by season’s end with 25 total tackles.
The experience gained by this trio last season is going to be invaluable, because it is the position that is the most thin on experience on the defensive side of the ball. Just how thin? Only three returning defensive lineman recorded a tackle for loss last season and only six returning players even recorded a single tackle last season.
New faces are going to push for snaps and that means watching this group intently this fall. Look for names like Jeremy Patterson, Billy Hirschfeld, David Pfaff and Olive Sagapolu to get in the mix during fall camp. Patterson actually got an opportunity or two last season before redshirting and could have a leg up on playing time because of it.
What We Need to Find Out: Can this group be more productive behind the line of scrimmage? Wisconsin was lucky last season, as Vince Biegel, Joe Schobert and Co. did major things behind the line of scrimmage. It made up for a defensive line that lacked a lot in the way of attacking football and experience in general.
With Alec James, Chikwe Obasih and Arthur Goldberg ready to build off the big experiences they got in their first years of real action (Goldberg was a sophomore), this group needs to be more attacking to help take some of the pressure of the linebacking group.
That’s especially true with UW breaking in two new starting inside linebackers and everyone looking to key on stopping or containing Biegel and Schobert on the outside. Can Obasih be more effective going downhill now that he’s continuing to put more weight on? Will James show more than the eight tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss he put up in 14 games of play as a main backup?
Perhaps some of the pressure will come from redshirt freshmen like nose tackle Jeremy Patterson or end Billy Hirschfeld. Simply put, the biggest mystery is how this group will affect not only the pass rush, but the ability to use differing lineups to throw off opposing offenses.
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has his work cut out for him, and given his want to use multiple lineups this group needs to respond positively in camp.
Player To Watch: Chikwe Obasih, DE
While other players are stepping up as a starter for the first time, Obasih is the lone returner. It means he’ll be counted on as a leader on and off the field for this group of young players. The good news is he appears ready to step up.
If spring was any indication, Obasih is ready to attack opposing defenses with a lot more than he did in his first season. During the spring game Obasih racked up three sacks and two forced fumbles alone. That was a massive step up for a group that was solid but lacked big play ability in 2014.
More of that from the lone returning starter and good luck stopping him and Joe Schobert on the edge. UW needs that production up front in the worst way possible.
Projected Starter(s): DE Chikwe Obasih; NG Arthur Goldberg; DE Alec James
On a unit that was young in 2014 and only getting younger heading in to 2015, the three names with the most experience are pretty automatic on the starting defensive line. James did himself a lot of good with a solid spring camp, holding off a nice charge from senior Jake Keefer too.
These are not just the three most experienced names, these three also have a good chemistry together. Let’s just see if it is enough to make this group a feared one by season’s end.