Wisconsin’s defense has been good long before Dave Aranda arrived on the UW campus, but his arrival signaled a whole new level of play for the Wisconsin Badgers defense.
A switch to the 3-4 defense four years ago marked a turning point, but the 2016 season will mark another one with the departure of Aranda for LSU. Can this group stand up on its own two feet without its innovative defensive coach on the sidelines with them?
With a lot of front seven talent back and new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox coming on board just in time to mold a young and intriguing secondary, the 2016 season promises to be very interesting and very telling for the Badgers defense.
If there is an award for unsung production, that would go to senior defensive end Chikwe Obasih. All he has done is help take the pressure off of multiple Big Ten Linebackers of the Year. He’s also managed to become more and more of a threat of his own.
The only real question marks up front are if two young players can be as productive as their potential showed in 2015. With expected starter Arthur Goldberg done with football due to injury, it means expected nose tackle Connor Sheehy moves to one defensive end position and sophomore nose guard Olive Sagapolu is about to see more snaps in one game than he likely did all of 2015.
However, the good news is that both players performed well when given their opportunities in 2015. It will also help that Sheehy will have names like junior Alec James and sophomore Billy Hirschfeld to get in the mix with him.
Perhaps the player with the most untapped potential is nose guard Jeremy Patterson, who is a mammoth of an athlete, but has been too inconsistent to jump beyond a backup in his previous two years with the Badgers. Given the inexperience at his position, making that jump this upcoming season would certainly be timely for UW.
Since the arrival of now former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, Wisconsin has churned out amazing performances from all over the place at linebacker. There was the increased production of Chris Borland and then Joe Schobert’s emergence as the Big Ten’s best linebacker last season too.
Schobert is gone, but that leaves senior Vince Biegel to be “the man” in this group. He also comes in to the season as the No. 1-ranked outside linebacker in the country according to Pro Football Focus. Another famous Wisconsin name will join him on the starting lineup as an outside linebacker — T.J. Watt.
The youngest brother of superstar J.J. Watt, T.J. wasn’t slated to start coming in to the spring but his performance early on in camp changed a lot at this position. It moved perceived front runner, Jack Cichy, back to inside linebacker and meant things were going to be real interesting there.
Cichy is just to experienced and athletic to keep off the field, but a pair of freshmen did more than just cut their teeth last season. Both T.J. Edwards and Chris Orr shined in their debut seasons in the Cardinal and White.
Edwards appears to be a lock to start, while Cichy and Orr could be the battle of all position battles in fall camp.
There is quality depth all throughout this group, but watch for names like Ryan Connelly and Nick Thomas on the inside and Dallas Jeanty along with Garrett Dooley on the outside.
Anytime you lose three quarters of a starting secondary, there is going to be upheaval. Such is the case with the 2016 Badgers secondary, but it is hardly a next man up situation in Madison. Instead, there is a lot of unknowns and a lot of youth at play throughout the secondary.
Only one starting position is guaranteed, as senior Sojourn Shelton looks to be the leader of a defensive secondary with lofty numbers to live up to. He’s been a steady force, but hasn’t lived up to the vast potential of his freshman season. If he can get back to that level of production (6 interceptions), it could be a huge year for UW’s secondary.
Helping matters is the hire of Wilcox, who has worked wonders with secondaries all over the college football landscape. Wilcox will need some of that magic with this group.
Coming out of spring, it was Derrick Tindal starting next to Shelton and that seems likely to stay that way unless one of a number of incoming freshmen blow away the coaching staff. Natrell Jamerson, a former wide receiver turned cornerback in 2015 appears much more comfortable and is the player with the most experience outside of the potential starters there.
Depth will have to come from a host of incoming freshmen like Titus Booker, who was an early enrollee and should be up to speed for fall camp. Other names to watch in camp include incoming freshmen Dontye Carriere-Williams and Ke’Shan Pennamon.
As for safety, things are completely up in the air at this point thanks to plenty of inconsistency from this group of players in spring camp. It was a mixed bag of results thanks to injuries and trying to find a consistent pairing amongst names like D’Cota Dixon, Arrington Farrar, Lubern Figaro, Joe Ferguson and Leo Musso.
However, there appears to be one player standing out if for no other reason than his athletic ability alone — sophomore Arrington Farrar. It also appeared that Dixon was starting to eek out a lead at strong safety coming out of spring camp.
Don’t sleep on Ferguson or incoming freshman Eric Burrell either at safety. One real darkhorse name to watch will be 3-star signee Seth Currens, who could be the next Michael Caputo but may not be ready just yet.
Our Projected Depth Chart
DE: Conor Sheehy, Jr.
NT: Olive Sagapolu, So.
DE: Chikwe Obasih, Sr.
OLB: T.J. Watt, Jr.
ILB: Jack Cichy, Jr.
ILB: T.J. Edwards, So.
OLB: Vince Biegel, Sr.
CB: Sojourn Shelton, Sr.
FS: Arrington Farrar, So.
SS: D’Cota Dixon, Jr.
CB: Derrick Tindal, Jr.