Madison has been known for stingy defense, which is crucial in the run heavy, in the nose type of offense that they see week in and week out in the Big Ten. Just ask J.J. Watt.
Currently six years into his NFL career with the Houston Texans, Watt has accumulated three Defensive Player of the Year awards. He exemplifies the excellence that is Wisconsin’s consistent defensive line.
Keeping with that trend, the best defensive lineman heading into summer camp for the 2017 season is defensive end Conor Sheehy. The fifth year senior is primed for a huge season.
Entering the 2017 season, Sheehy is on the Chuck Bednarik award watch list which is handed out at the end of the season to the best defensive player in college football. His teammate ILB Jack Cichy is also on that watch list and looking to make noise this coming season. Sheehy was also recently named on of the five team captains for the Badgers in 2017.
Sheehy started off the 2016 season slow and did not play particularly well against early opponents, but after injuries started to pile up with leaders like Cichy and Vince Biegel going down, Sheehy rose to the occasion.
His overall season stats from 2016 will by no means blow you away. Only 27 total tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and 2.5 sacks will not jump off of the page at you. But Sheehy’s game is way more than just putting up stats.
For those of us more accustomed to Wisconsin basketball, consider Sheehy more of the Zak Showalter of this team. Sheehy opened up the holes that allowed T.J. Watt to become the linebacker he was and generally made the players around him better by doing the things that don’t show up on the stat line. For example, drawing a double team from opposing offensive lineman.
Senior defensive ends Chikwe Obasih and Alec James also figure to bring a veteran presence each game. James ended 2016 with 3.5 sacks and Obasih showed versatility with four pass breakups and two quarterback hurries to go along with 1.5 sacks.
Another big man up front to look out for is Olive Sagapolu. The junior nose tackle will be the starter heading into 2017, but was very limited in 2016 due to injury that kept him out most of the later half of the season.
When all is said and done though, Sheehy will be leading this defensive line. Whether in actual stats or leading the way helping his teammates in ways that do not show up in the stat box.