The football season may be over, but spring camp is around the corner for the Wisconsin Badgers. We take a look at the position battles on defense heading into the 2017 season.
With injuries taking Jack Cichy and Chris Orr out this past season, it gave T.J. Edwards an opportunity to really step up and Ryan Connelly to gain valuable experience. But with Cichy and Orr both coming back, this unit is primed for a huge season once again. Before his injury, Cichy was on his way to be an All-American. 2017 will be a redemption year for Cichy, coming back from injury and he will lead the first unit, with Edwards most likely lining up next to him. There is a chance Cichy is moved to the outside to accommodate the losses of Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt, but he was so effective at inside linebacker that it will be tough to move him. Orr may not start, but will still see plenty of snaps. Connelly will use the experience he gained in the previous season to sure up depth at the linebacker position.
Projection – ILB1: Jack Cichy, T.J. Edwards; ILB2: Chris Orr, Ryan Connelly
Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt led the ferocious Wisconsin defense from the outside last season, but the two are now both on their way to promising NFL careers.
Last season, Garret Dooley was just behind Biegel in total tackles (40) and added 6.5 tackles for loss with 3.5 sacks. The redshirt senior will anchor the first unit with his partner on the opposite still a question mark. It is not a matter of not having enough talent though.
Transfer Christen Bell will look to have an impact this season and could very well be in the mix for a starting job. More likely though, Zack Baun will be in with Dooley. Last season, Baun had 3.5 tackles for loss in limited opportunities.
Again, an interesting possibility would be to move Cichy over to the outside where his athleticism would shine. With the depth at the inside linebacker position, this is definitely a possibility.
Projection – OLB1: Garret Dooley, Zack Baun; OLB2: Christian Bell
The only real question at nose tackle will be who will back up Olive Sagapolu. When the junior missed some time due to injury last season, Conor Sheehy moved over from defensive end to cover for his absence. But with a year of practice and development under his belt, former four-star recruit Garrett Rand will look to solidify his spot behind Sagapolu and work for some playing time in 2017.
Sagapolu is the clear starter though as he was great at clogging running lanes and creating pressure to free up space for blitzing linebackers.
Projection – DT1: Olive Sagapolu; DT2: Garrett Rand
Three seniors will lead the defensive end unit in 2017, with Sheehy leading the way. In 2016, Sheehy totaled 4.0 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. The other starting spot will be once again split between Alec James and Chikwe Obasih. Last season, Obasih played in more games, but James played slightly more effectively. James outperformed in sacks and tackles for loss. The only edge Obasih has is that he can drop back into pass coverage better than James. Rounding out the second unit will most likely be redshirt junior Billy Hirschfeld. But don’t be surprised if JuCo transfer Andrew Van Ginkel has an impact as well as a pass rusher at defensive end or outside linebacker.
Projection – DE1: Conor Sheehy, Alec James OR Chikwe Obasih; DE2: Billy Hirschfeld, Andrew Van Ginkel
Replacing Sojourn Shelton will be a tall task as the shut down corner leaves for the NFL. Derrick Tindal will now be the leader of the unit, as he has the most playing time at the position. The senior will look to build off of an impressive junior campaign, where he totaled three interceptions and broke up 11 passes.
After Tindal, though, questions remain. Hawaii transfer Nick Nelson will very well be in the mix for the starting job. Natrell Jamerson and Titus Booker will also be fighting for first or second team reps. More intriguing, though, is where redshirt freshman Caesar Williams will fall. In summer camp last year, the freshman looked to have the natural skills to have an impact. Williams was getting interceptions and break ups left and right in the summer, and gave Hornibrook and Houston nightmares as they fought for the starting QB job last season.
Projection – CB1: Derrick Tindal; CB2: Nick Nelson; CB3: Natrell Jamerson; CB4: Titus Booker, Caesar Williams
Redshirt junior D’Cota Dixon will be the undoubted leader of this group heading into the 2017 season. Dixon had a monster 2016 season with four interceptions, four pass break ups, four quarterback hurries, and also added 60 total tackles with one sack. After watching former safety Leo Musso lead in 2016, Dixon will get his turn.
Besides Dixon though, this group looks a lot like they did at this time last season – little in the way of sure things and a lot in the way of questions. Junior Arrington Farrar seems the most logical to get his chance to start, but sophomore Patrick Johnson and redshirt freshman Eric Burrell will be in the mix as well.
Projection – FS1: Arrington Farrar; SS1: D’Cota Dixon