Wisconsin Football: Meet the Badgers' 8 New Starters for 2013
Fall practice is wrapping up for Wisconsin football, which means positions in question are coming into focus.
The Badgers return 14 starters from their 2012 B1G title squad, which means at least eight positions are up for grabs entering the 2013 season.
Considering the issues at wide receiver and the depth concerns on the offensive line, there's a chance even more than eight players could become first-time starters.
The biggest turnover will be in the secondary—Wisconsin lost 75 percent of its defensive backfield from a season ago. And while the quarterback competition is coming down to sixth-year senior Curt Phillips and Joel Stave, both players started games last season.
So you don't have to ask "Who's that guy?" when first tuning into the Badgers' Week 1 matchup against Massachusetts on Aug. 31, get to know the Badgers' 8 new starters for 2013.
Weight: 206 pounds
Position: Strong Safety
Player Replacing: Shelton Johnson
Early on in camp, it was redshirt freshman running back-turned-safety Leo Musso getting reps with the No. 1 defense and impressing coaches. But as fall practice wore on, sophomore Michael Caputo began outperforming Musso and leapfrogged him in the depth chart.
Caputo, a three-star recruit from the class of 2011 (all ratings via 247sports), saw some extended playing time last season while Shelton Johnson was sidelined with a broken arm, but Michael Trotter got the starts.
Trotter's lack of speed became an issue, and Caputo took advantage.
Now, he will be the one starting opposite of senior Dezmen Southward, the only leftover from last year's secondary. In 2012, Caputo played in 13 games and totaled just 10 tackles.
Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda plans on using four safety sets, which should still allow Musso and Trotter to see the field. But it's Caputo who emerged as the every-down strong safety for Wisconsin.
In Aranda's new defense, Caputo will be lined up almost as an outside linebacker. Safeties will blitz more often than before at Wisconsin, which means they will, you know, actually blitz.
Weight: 187 pounds
Player Replacing: Devin Smith
Cornerback Peniel Jean was hindered by injury last season after breaking his foot just before the season started. This didn't allow Jean to see the field until late in the season, and by then it was merely mop-up duty for the junior corner.
Jean only saw time in five games during the 2012 season, where he only recorded one tackle and a pass breakup. It was a disappointing injury for Jean, but it could have come at a worse time, as he was already blocked by seniors Marcus Cromartie and Devin Smith at corner.
During the 2011 season, Jean was the nickel corner for Wisconsin as a redshirt freshman. Now Jean is healthy once again, and he will finally have an opportunity to start for the Badgers in 2013.
Under the new 3-4 defense, Jean will be playing more press coverage and will look to be aggressive, two ideologies that weren't accepted under the tutelage of Bret Bielema.
Weight: 230 pounds
Position: Inside Linebacker
Player Replacing: Mike Taylor
Throughout all of fall camp, junior Derek Landisch and senior Conor O'Neill battled it out for the linebacker position vacated by Mike Taylor. On Aug. 26, it was officially announced that Landisch would start against UMass when the Badgers' Week 1 depth chart was released (via @BadgerFootball).
Of the four positions in which multiple players were listed as starters, inside linebacker was not one of them. Even so, head coach Gary Andersen still plans to play both Landisch and O'Neill against the Minutemen (via John Veldhuis of the Badger Blitz).
If last season was any indication, Landisch was in line to start this season over O'Neill all along. Landisch racked up 28 tackles and a pass deflection in comparison to O'Neill's 15 tackles, although the senior linebacker did record an interception. It was Landisch who saw more playing time in Chris Borland's absence towards the end of the 2012 season when Borland was dealing with an injury.
Speaking of Borland, Wisconsin's leader on defense, his presence should help to cover up any deficiencies Landisch brings to the table. Landisch still needs to prove he is the one who deserves a majority of the snaps at inside linebacker alongside Borland.
Weight: 322 pounds
Position: Left Guard/Center
Player Replacing: Rick Wagner via Ryan Groy
Similar to Jean, new starting left guard Dallas Lewallen has been held back by injury during his time at Wisconsin. But now the junior offensive lineman is taking full advantage of his good health and should start Week 1.
Originally, Lewallen was penciled in as the starting left guard, but with expected starting center Dan Voltz battling a hamstring injury, Lewallen shifted to center. The fact that he slid over shows that Lewallen has some versatility, but also highlights what could be a lack of depth on the offensive line.
The only concern for Lewallen is that since he moved over to center, Ryan Groy has played in his natural position at left guard, allowing sophomore Tyler Marz to shine at left tackle during camp. If Marz winds up being formidable enough at tackle, that could mean Lewallen is the odd man out once Voltz is fully recovered from his injury.
For now, Lewallen and Voltz are listed as co-starters against UMass. Look for the healthy Lewallen to get more reps than Voltz, but also keep an eye on the developing situation that is the Badgers' offensive line.
Weight: 269 pounds
Position: Defensive End
Player Replacing: David Gilbert
There might not be a single player on Wisconsin's defense that benefits more from the switch to a 3-4 defense than senior Pat Muldoon.
That's because Muldoon, who was largely used as a pass rusher last season for Wisconsin, will be one of the two starting defensive ends on the Badgers' three-man front. Brendan Kelly making the move from end to outside linebacker over the offseason opened up a spot for Muldoon on the line.
He has been making plays in practice and is listed as a co-starter with senior Tyler Dippel, who unlike Kelly will remain on the line. It's been Muldoon garnering much of the talk during the offseason, however, so once the defense takes the field against the Minutemen, it should be Muldoon out there with it.
Last season, Muldoon missed three games due to injury, but still managed to rack up 16 tackles and 2.5 sacks in a limited role.
As a member of the new three-man defensive line, Muldoon's role will still be to rush the passer, as he is more athletic than fellow starters Ethan Hemer and Beau Allen. He will also be expected to create push to clog up the middle and make way for the linebackers playing behind him.
Weight: 172 pounds
Player Replacing: Marcus Cromartie
In what was perhaps the most shocking revelation upon the release of Wisconsin's Week 1 depth chart, true freshman Sojourn Shelton was listed as a starting cornerback over last year's nickel corner, sophomore Darius Hillary.
Andersen downplayed Shelton's starting nod in his press conference, stating that Hillary hadn't been beaten out by anybody, including Shelton. Hillary was listed as the nickel corner, but Andersen said the Badgers would be playing a lot of nickel, so there would be three starting cornerbacks.
But the Badgers won't always be playing nickel, so that means Shelton will see more playing time than Hillary. It really shouldn't come as too much of a surprise—Shelton was turning heads during spring practice and carried over that strong play into the fall.
While Shelton is certainly deserving of his starting distinction, the fact that he is a true freshman stepping into a new defensive scheme could be a concern. Aranda wants to play more press coverage and see his corners be aggressive in general, so that could leave Shelton looking bad on occasion. For now, we'll celebrate Shelton's accomplishment and see how he reacts in his first game at the college level.
Weight: 313 pounds
Player Replacing: Travis Frederick
On Lewallen's slide, it was mentioned that redshirt freshman Dan Voltz has battled a sore hamstring during camp. But once Voltz is 100 percent healthy—which may not be for another week or twohe should be the starting center for the Badgers.
Voltz has big shoes to fill, as last year's starter Travis Frederick left after his junior season for the NFL draft and was selected in the first round.
But Voltz has been considered the starter at center dating all the way back to spring practice.
He was one of Wisconsin's top commits in the 2012 class as a four-star recruit, even turning down an offer from Alabama to remain close to home, but redshirted due to the presence of Frederick.
Now, Voltz has four years of eligibility remaining and will look to continue Wisconsin's reign of dominance at center. He just needs to shake that hamstring injury first.
Weight: 195 pounds
Position: Running Back
Player Replacing: Montee Ball
There is one thing James White can say that all seven of the previously mentioned new starters cannot:
He has already had a major impact during his time at Wisconsin.
The senior running back will finally get his chance to shine in a starting role after backing up John Clay and Montee Ball during his first three seasons as a Badger. As a freshman, White topped 1,000 yards on the ground and in total has rushed for 2,571 yards with a 6.1 yards-per-carry average in his college career.
The only knock on White is that we aren't sure if he can be an every-down back, and he is more of an outside runner as opposed to between the tackles. Thankfully, the Badgers have the services of sophomore Melvin Gordon, true freshman Corey Clement and junior Jeff Lewis, who is back at tailback after a short stint at safety.
It's a very talented backfield, and White will lead the way (finally) as Wisconsin's most notable first-time starter in 2013.
Follow Bleacher Report's Wisconsin Badgers football writer Dave Radcliffe on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe
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