The Sweet Sixteen and Wisconsin’s amazing basketball run as of late seems to have taken some attention away from the football field. Well, that and a break from spring football.
However, we haven’t forgotten about the football team in the least. In fact, we’re diving deeper in to the names that are impacting the team in spring football all this week. Earlier we took a look at the offensive players making an early impact.
Today, it is the defense’s turn and with so many players either injured or being held out for cautionary reasons, it has been an interesting spring for the defense.
It also is good news for new defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard. He has had a rare opportunity to put players buried on the depth chart in to the deep end.
Who is swimming so far in camp? Let’s take a look.
Nick Nelson, Cornerback
One of the biggest surprises on the Badgers spring roster was the news that last season’s nickel back, Natrell Jamerson, was moving to safety. It meant that junior cornerback Nick Nelson was stepping in to a starting role.
After a few practices, the move by the coaching staff has seemed to pay off. It is in large part due to Nelson’s ability on the outside. Many wondered if UW would be able to replace four-year starter Sojourn Shelton, and Nelson has made the coaching staff and observers more than comfortable with the transition so far.
It shouldn’t be all that surprising from a player with 21 career starts at cornerback. He also hasn’t been a slouch in those 21 starts — recording 89 tackles, 2.5 for loss, 21 pass deflections, and two forced fumbles.
However, doing it at Hawaii in the Mountain West and doing it at Wisconsin are two different things. It appears that won’t matter much for Nelson and UW’s secondary could be as strong as ever thanks to his inclusion.
Could we be seeing the beginning of a star being born? Time will tell, but there’s little doubt things are looking good early on in spring camp.
Isaiahh Loudermilk, Defensive End
Wisconsin is deep up front, but there are some players being held out this spring for various reasons. One player who appears to be taking his opportunity and running with it is one of our sleepers of the 2016 recruiting class — Isaiahh Loudermilk.
The 6-7, 296-pound redshirt freshman was seen as a steal and a project in the 2016 recruiting class, largely because he came from a small school in Kansas and from 8-man football.
None of that has apparently mattered early on in camp, as Loudermilk’s improved body has allowed him to be dominant at times along the defensive line. He’s unique size gives the Badgers a lot of flexibility in the packages and calls they can use. We’ll see what happens as spring ball goes forward, but Loudermilk could be a name to watch heading in to fall if this keeps up.
Mike Maskalunas, Inside Linebacker
Another example of right place, right time appears to be little-heard of inside linebacker Mike Maskaluanas. The walk-on freshman from Long Grove, Ill. has made a habit out of making some big plays so far in spring ball.
With T.J. Edwards, Chris Orr and Jack Cichy either out or limited in spring ball following injuries and surgeries, the numbers are pretty thin on the inside. Maskalunas has taken plenty of reps and has apparently made intercepting freshman quarterback Jack Coan a personal habit.
He’s picked off Coan twice in spring ball that we know of and been a general pain in the rear-end to the offense so far. Those types of performances will get you more and more looks as the season nears, and any time a
Keldric Preston, Outside Linebacker
While all the attention is on the starting outside linebacker spots, one player who has quietly had a big spring so far has been Preston. His height (6-4) and size (254 lbs.) are a huge asset off the edge or UW.
One thing is for sure, there are no shortages of options on the outside and Wisconsin’s coaching staff is going to have a lot of fun trying to sort out playing time for all the talent that is in the mix.
Preston may not be a starter this season or next, but you can expect him to be a player who will push for a lot of snaps if this type of progression happens throughout the spring.
Eric Burrell, Safety
D’Cota Dixon and Natrell Jamerson appear to be the favorites to stat this season, with Dixon a lock barring injury and Jamerson quickly adapting to his new position. However, one young player appears to be stepping up in a big way this spring and that is Eric Burrell.
At 6-0, 185 pounds, he may seem a bit light, but Burrell has been able to show his range and his knowledge of the defense quickly in camp. Sources have been raving about his ability in practice for awhile and we are seeing that come out in spades early on in camp.
With experience a concern behind the likely starters, anyone showcasing themselves as capable players is a welcome sight. Expect Burrell to make a serious push for playing time early on in his career.
So far in camp he has recored one interception, coming off of Coan, and been a good one-on-one defender. Those skills can be useful to changing things up when necessary. Look for him to rise up the depth chart quickly if he can be consistent.