Wisconsin Badgers 2010 Defensive Depth Chart: Pre-Spring Practice Ed.
With only days before spring practice, it's time to take a look at the Wisconsin Badgers 2010 defensive depth chart.
Although the Badger defense contained Miami's high-powered offense in the Champs Sports Bowl, it definitely had its troubles in 2009-10.
Wisconsin gave up 21.8 points a game, and although they held opponents to only 2.9 yards per rush, they more than made up for that by giving up almost 3,000 passing yards and 21 touchdowns through the air.
That said, the majority of Wisconsin's defensive starters are back in 2010, which should hopefully provide them with the experience they need to improve from last year's shaky performance.
The Badger offense may carry the team next year, but as any football fan knows, it's defense that wins championships. Let's hope Wisconsin's can hold their ground.
Projected Starter, Defensive End: J.J. Watt
Despite losing their top defensive player and one of the nation's sack-masters, O'Brien Schofield, Wisconsin's defensive line looks like it could be the anchor of their defense in 2010.
The D-line will be led by senior defensive end J.J. Watt, who last year recorded 44 tackles, including 15.5 for losses, and 4.5 sacks. Although he won't be able to replace Schofield, look for Watt to take over as one of Wisconsin's defensive leaders.
Projected Starter, Defensive End: Louis Nzegwu
Going into next year as a redshirt junior, Nzegwu may be thrown into the mix at the starting defensive end opposite Watt after only limited playing time last year.
Nzegwu played in 10 games in 2009, recording 10 tackles, including three for losses, and 3.5 sacks.
However, if Nzegwu doesn't pan out, a lesser-known backup or an incoming freshman like Konrad Zagzebski could step in and see some playing time. Even outside 'backer Chris Borland could step in to play defensive end if needed.
Projected Starter, Defensive Tackle: Patrick Butrym
Redshirt junior Patrick Butrym will come in as the other starting defensive lineman who could emerge as one of the defensive leaders next season.
Butrym played in all 13 games last year, recording 24 tackles, 2.5 of them for losses, and half a sack. He will be a definite run-plugger for next year's squad.
Projected Starter, Defensive Tackle: ???
As far as the other defensive tackle slot, the race is wide open. An unknown benchwarmer or an incoming freshman like Beau Allen could be seeing a lot of playing time next year.
Projected Starter, Middle Linebacker: Culmer St. Jean
Coming in as Wisconsin's second-leading tackler last year, senior linebacker Culmer St. Jean will be Wisconsin's leader at linebacker.
Last year, St. Jean recorded 63 tackles, including four for losses, 1.5 sacks and even had an interception. If that play continues St. Jean could be in the running for All-Big Ten.
Projected Starter, Outside Linebacker: Mike Taylor
Although only a freshman last year, Mike Taylor was one of Wisconsin's best defensive players by far. Taylor finished the year with 46 tackles, including 6.5 for losses, and also finished with a sack and an interception. And he only did it in seven games.
Despite suffering a season-ending knee injury against Iowa in October, Taylor was still voted to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team by the Sporting News and if he can recover from his injury, he could also be in the running for All-Big Ten honors.
Projected Starter, Outside Linebacker: Chris Borland
Despite everything I just said about St. Jean and Taylor, the one player on Wisconsin fans' minds when it comes to the 2010 defense is sophomore linebacker Chris Borland.
As a freshman last year, Borland finished the year with 54 tackles, including 10.5 for losses, and five sacks to go along with an interception.
He led the team with five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries and was voted as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year along with being a First-Team Freshman All-American.
Projected Starter, Cornerback: Devin Smith
As a first-year starter last year, Devin Smith struggled to say the least.
Although he finished the year with 55 tackles, a sack, and two interceptions, he was a liability on defense. The fact that he made 55 tackles is pretty telling in determining how well he guarded his man.
However, with a year under his belt, hopefully he will have made some adjustments by the time the 2010 season begins.
Projected Starter, Cornerback: Niles Brinkley
Also struggling last year was the starting corner opposite of Smith, Niles Brinkley.
Despite having seen much more playing time in 2008 than Smith did, Brinkley still had problems even with a year of experience. He finished with 38 tackles and two interceptions, but his man was constantly open and he was embarrassed on a national stage against Miami when the Hurricanes' speed was simply too much for him.
With both Antoni Fenelus and Aaron Henry seeing significant playing time last year, both Smith and Brinkley will have to perform if they want to keep their jobs.
Projected Starter, Safety: Jay Valai
With the departure of Chris Maragos, senior safety Jay Valai will undoubtedly be the leader of the secondary in 2010.
Valai finished 2009 with 51 tackles, including 3.5 for losses, with an interception as well. Valai will be Wisconsin's safety valve if things go wrong with their cornerbacks and if the Badgers are to have any luck defending the pass, Jay will have to be on his game in 2010.
Projected Starter, Safety: ???
With Valai and Maragos seeing almost all of the playing time at safety last year, the open slot at safety is anyone's to take.
An unheralded backup, or an incoming freshman such as Michael Trotter or Frank Tamakloe could take the spot.
Either way, whoever does earn the position better be up to it, because unless Wisconsin's cornerbacks improve drastically this off-season, they are in for a challenge.
As Wisconsin's punter last year, junior Brad Nortman was the epitome of consistent.
In 49 attempts, Nortman averaged 42 yards a punt, had a long of 61 yards, placed 17 inside the 20-yard line, and was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection.
Unless something goes horribly wrong next year, Wisconsin has nothing to worry about at punter.