Wisconsin Badgers' Defense: Searching For Illusive Optimism
Big questions, but if you follow the Badgers and don’t already have an opinion, well...Wednesday is the day to name a starting QB.
But what about the defense? Not only do the Badgers need to replace, count ‘em; one, two, three, four, five, six two-to-four-year starters, but defense was already a serious problem. Last season in conference play the Badgers were ninth in points allowed. When your conference is the "Big Ten," coming in ninth isn’t so hot.
It’s August, the time of eternal optimism, so the rebuilding begins now, right? But what are the signs out of practice? So far, not so good.
Sure, the coaches keep raving about J.J. Watt and what a great addition he makes to the D-line. In the scrimmage on Saturday, every Badger tailback crushed, going for big gains, and that was with an offensive line chock full of redshirt freshman (Brown: 16/133, long of 63 (TD); Ball: 15/122, long of 82). Not a good sign for defending power running teams (Fresno State, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Iowa come to mind).
Where were the linebackers? The coaches have raved about St. Jean’s athleticism, but remember he’s new to this linebacker thing, and Sorensen, a fourth-year Junior, is still fighting off challenges from redshirt freshman (and after the lethargic Spring game performance, it’s not hard to see why). On top of that, there’s little depth at the linebacker position, with primarily redshirt and true freshmen behind the starters.
The secondary looks ok, if not spectacular. Reports tell the story that Henry is back to pre-injury form, but with a better understanding of the game. He could be a lock-down corner. On the other side, Devin Smith is pushing seven-game starter Niles Brinkley to start. Does that mean Smith is another lock-down type? Probably not, but he should be no worse than capable. In addition, true Frosh Dez Southward has made an impression as a big (6’1”) nickel back who may now project long term as a corner rather than a safety.
Valai returns with his heavy-hitting form and hopefully his experience as a returning starter will keep him in good stead as the strong safety. Finally, Maragos returns as the latter-half starter from last season, and has always been solid if not spectacular. Returns from practice sound good so far: lots of picks (though one wonders what that says about the quarterback derby going on).
What does it all mean? The front seven remain a huge concern. The bottom line is the Badger D needs to cut-down on points allowed. It’s just tough to see where the needed improvement will come from. Where is that August optimism again?
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