The Chuck Bednarik award is given out annually to the best defensive player in college football. Past winners include NFL household names such as Ndamukong Suh, Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson and Aaron Donald. While the award will not be handed out until December after all the whistles have blown, two Wisconsin Badgers find themselves on a preseason watch list. Linebacker Jack Cichy and defensive end Conor Sheehy are both on the Bednarik watch list according to a tweet posted by the football team. Both Cichy and Sheehy were integral parts of a Badger defense that was tops in the Big Ten a year ago.
Sheehy had a slow start to the season, but closed out strong with excellent performances against Ohio State and Northwestern. He was particularly good in the Badger’s victory in Evanston, racking up five tackles, including a sack and a forced fumble. At 6 feet 4 inches and nearly 290 pounds, Sheehy is an imposing figure capable of wreaking havoc in the backfield. With TJ Watt and Vince Biegel departed for the NFL, Sheehy will have to pick up the slack for a pass rush that left quarterbacks waking up in a cold sweat. His versatility across the defensive line is a weapon that new defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard will undoubtedly make use of.
Cichy was a dominant performer throughout last season before a torn pectoral muscle sidelined him following a victory over Iowa. He is a tackling machine, posting double digit tackles in each of his final three games, including an impressive 11 solo tackles in the overtime loss to Ohio State. Cichy does an excellent job shedding blocks and playing the run fits along with being a more than capable pass defender. His ability to stay on the field for three downs and be a mouthpiece for Leonhard will be crucial for the Badgers this season.
Both these players will be called upon to help continue what has been one of the most impressive three-year runs defensively in college football. If the Badgers are able to put together another extraordinary defensive season, do not be surprised if Cichy or Sheehy is hoisting some hardware come December.