Badgers: What now along the defensive line?

Mark87

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http://madcitysportszone.com/2018/06/12/badgers-what-now-along-the-defensive-line/

Wisconsin could be without two key pieces of its defensive line this fall.
According to Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, defensive ends Garrett Rand and Isaiahh Loudermilk are out indefinitely. Rand suffered an Achilles injury that could keep him out the entire season, while Loudermilk underwent knee surgery this spring to deal with some lingering issues.


Both are big losses for a defensive line group already trying to replace three seniors — Chikwe Obasih, Conor Sheehy and Alec James — from last year. Rand and Loudermilk were penciled in as starters in the base 3-4 defense. With them out, what will Wisconsin do?
On the surface, this feels very much like 2014. The Badgers lost four experienced players from the previous year with seniors Warren Herring and Konrad Zagzebski the only experienced players back. But Herring suffered a knee injury in the season opener and missed the next five games, while Zagzebski was carted off with a neck injury, though he’d return the next week. It forced Wisconsin into playing young guys like Obasih, Sheehy, James and Arthur Goldberg. It wasn’t ideal, but Wisconsin managed. Where it’s different this time around, is this happened far enough in advance of the season they can plan accordingly.

Here’s our look at some of their options.

Olive Sagapolu
The senior is Wisconsin’s starting nose guard, and it’s his best spot. But even before the loss of Rand and Loudermilk, there was already a plan in place to use Sagapolu in different spots. Listed at 346 pounds last year, he was down to 338 in the spring and still trying to lose more as he transitioned himself into being more of a three-down player. So often in recent years, Wisconsin’s opponents would spread things out and it left Sagapolu standing on the sideline while the Badgers went to their sub packages with just two linemen. Now, though, Sagapolu should be available to defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard in all situations, which is obviously even more important now in the wake of the injury news.
Aaron Vopal
The redshirt freshman ran with the first-team defense at points this spring when Rand and Loudermilk were out and didn’t look overwhelmed. At 6-foot-6, 299 pounds, Vopal is more than capable physically to handle the grind in the trenches. And it’s important to remember that while making plays is great, the real job of Wisconsin’s defensive linemen is to keep the opposing offensive line off the linebackers so they can flow to the ball. Vopal appeared to have that ability in the limited time we got to see him in practice.

Keldric Preston
The redshirt sophomore is currently more known for a video of him eating an orange — peal and all — that went viral following the Orange Bowl. But he did seem to have some pass rushing talent in 1-on-1 drills this spring and could be some help in Wisconsin’s nickel packages.

Bryson Williams
Williams enrolled at Wisconsin in December and took part in all the offseason work and spring ball. His future is at nose guard, and it’s where he lined up during practice, serving as Sagapolu’s backup. But it’s not where he played in high school. His film shows him as a 4-3 defensive tackle and there is some carryover between that and a defensive end in a 3-4. Williams, like Sheehy and Goldberg did during their careers, seems capable of playing both defensive line spots.


David Pfaff and Kraig Howe
The two juniors have been buried on the depth chart their first three years. Howe flashed a couple times during spring practice, including having a strip-sack of quarterback Kare Lyles in a scrimmage. It would be huge if either guy can make a jump this year to being a contributor on Saturdays.

True freshmen: Isaiah Mullens & Boyd Dietzen
A 3-star recruit, Mullens chose Wisconsin over offers from the likes of Iowa, Indiana, Purdue and others. According to a Land of 10 article, Mullens weighed 292 pounds at 6-foot-6 earlier this spring, and is thought of as a really good athlete. If some of the older guys don’t take advantage of their opportunities, it might be Mullens who steps into a role in his first year.

 

Crease Creature

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Oh no, a series of injuries to the same position group where the guys hurt were figured to be leaders on the defense?

I think we've seen this show before, and if the guys stepping in do half as well as some of the LBs the last couple of seasons, we'll be ok.
 

TW

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I thought we were a little thin on the DL? That said, they always do seem to dip into unexpected areas and find someone who's game ready pretty quickly.

I was wondering if Boyd Dietzen has put on a little muscle weight? If he has, he could be a new recruit who might win some playing time as a true freshman. I believe he's Jon Dietzen's cousin??? Maybe has blood lines like the Matthews family, Clay being in the present generation of football players?

At least the Badgers aren't in a position where they don't have time to prepare for the situation on the line. They could also use one of their younger, less used linebackers who has some weight to them, to play a down position. Who knows? Could turn into a great discovery that ends up like Tim Krumrie, moving from ILB to nose tackle, and being an All Pro in the NFL.
 

57packer

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D-line is one of their thinnest areas. They lost 3 seniors after last season and if these 2 guys are down for most/all of the season, they will really struggle to find 4-5 ready guys they can rotate in. That doesn't even account for the fact that these two were clearly their 2 best DE's. They'll still be good, but there will be some struggles along the d-line this year.
 

57packer

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Sounds like Loudermilk's knee surgery went well and he should be ready at some point during the season, maybe by the Big-10 opener against Iowa. Rand on the other hand is out for the season with a torn achilles.

It looks like they also found another NT/DT. The word is that Kayden Lyles, the OG/OC will be moved to NG for the rest of this season and then move back to OL next year. He's strong and athletic and should be able to give them some snaps as part of a rotation.
 

TW

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I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Kayden ends up being a real stud out there. From everything I've heard about him, he's pure energy, and did a good job working on scout last year when he red-shirted. He actually played DT against the regulars, and did well. Other players think he has the skill to make the adjustment. Just maybe he'll do well. I doubt for a moment that the Badgers would make this move if they thought he couldn't handle it.
 

57packer

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I think the issue with Lyles isn't whether they think he can handle it physically, but like the rest of the youngsters they are looking at to play DL now, it's whether they can handle playing "full-time" mentally. I suspect it'll be a rotation of role players getting snaps here and there in situations they can handle mentally and in mop-up duty to keep the top guys as rested as possible.
 

TW

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I think the issue with Lyles isn't whether they think he can handle it physically, but like the rest of the youngsters they are looking at to play DL now, it's whether they can handle playing "full-time" mentally. I suspect it'll be a rotation of role players getting snaps here and there in situations they can handle mentally and in mop-up duty to keep the top guys as rested as possible.
I agree. It's a question of stamina. That's why we're looking at a fairly deep rotation of players at this point, to fill the gap. Going from good enough to solid enough to play a lot of downs is a big difference. It's going to take time figuring out what each of them offers as strengths, to help spell the regulars, and create pressure when needed.

I doubt there's any position on the team that's more energy sapping than the defensive line. Each play is total energy, and if the energy is gone, it's difficult seeing until it's too late. I expect our coaching staff to deal with that through numbers, like you indicated.

When I was in HS I played linebacker. As a Junior, they had me play some down lineman early in the season. I expended more energy in a quarter than I normally did in a half at LB. To say it's brute strength against brute strength is probably an understatement. It's pure guts and determination that separates the guys who win those face-offs repeatedly. Needless to say, in two games I learned a lot, and from there on in, at LB, I was thankful I had those skills. It was a lesson in humility.

When I hear people say that defensive linemen are just fat guys who throw their weight around, I just shake my head. Until you've played a few downs in their shoes, you haven't got a clue.
 

RailBird

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I think the DL depth could prove an issue as the season wears on. Big Ten is a grind. Hopefully we have enough bodies to survive.
 
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