Will the back seven take it up a notch?
In the run up to the new editors taking over a team, I was going to discuss who the most important players to the Badgers fortunes were. It wasn't going to be Danny O'Brien or Montee Ball. Though they both are great. It wasn't Jared Abbrederis or Ricky Wagner either. Though again, great players.
Instead it was on the defensive side of the ball. It was the playmaking linebacker tag team of Borland and Taylor. I would have made a joke regarding Home Improvement and how Chris Borland was the sensible one with the fabulous beard and Mike Taylor was comedically accident prone.
But as the title should have told you. Plans change. And a line of Mike Taylor going "OH OH OH" is lost to parallel universes and far off scientific worlds where the Zune beat the iPod.
So we're going to do it right. Breakdown the back seven. Join me, won't you?
Line I said before the jump, the Badgers have a tag team of playmakers that are the force that makes the unit go. Chris Borland finished last season with 19 tackles for loss (2.5 sacks.) Word out of camp is that they're going to see if they can't get more pass rush out of him this year. Mike Taylor's the more pure run stuffer of the tean. But these two are so talented that with the usual caveats, they will be first-team all conference yet again. The third man of the group is Ethan Armstrong. He managed a couple of starts last year, and made 29 tackles.
Conor O'Neill provides excellent depth, as he was in on 29 tackles. Derek Landisch worked his way into situational importance as a freshman and Marcus Trotter was a member of the academic all-Big Ten last season. A.J. Fenton had a tremendous spring. Cody Byers will provide depth. All in all? This is a crew that's going to do something despite the questions on the defensive line.
And there's always the possibility that Vince Biegel forces his way into playing time. He was doing well before he injured his foot. Am I confident this could be one of the best units in the country? Absolutely.
As cornerbacks go? There's no doubt that the Badgers missed Devin Smith as the year went on. And like Borland and Taylor going into 2011. His presence is going to shore up a unit that was subpar, despite Antonio Fenelus doing good work. The Badgers didn't lose the National Title Game on his leg, but he's definitely a steadying force. Marcus Cromartie's another solid cornerback. Though there were inconsistent performances last season.
Peniel Jean was a physical presence as a true freshman nickel corner. For a guy scout.com rated as a two-star prospect, he's definitely one to watch as his career continues. Devin Gaulden was limited with stress fractures in his legs last season, but has the physical gifts to be a great dime corner. Terrance Floyd and Reggie Mitchell look to be the depth parts.
And I don't know about you, but I'm kind of excited for Hugs Etienne's first pass interference penalty.
The Badgers lose another all-Big Ten presence in Aaron Henry at Free Safety. But Shelton Johnson's a powerful presence at the strong safety, and the returning leader of passes defensed (4 interceptions). The back four's going to go as far as Shelton carries him. Dezmen Southward will replace Henry to start with. Southward's physically gifted, and for his fourth year in football, he still hasn't hit the upper levels of his talent yet.
Michael Trotter's the third safety. Yes, he is the brother of Marcus Trotter. But he is being pushed by Darius Hillary, a freshman the Badgers love enough they're going to find a place for him on the two deep. Also in on the two deep is Michael Caputo. He's got that sort of classic thumper swagger about him.
Regarding the secondary, there may be a loss of name talent, but there's likely going to be a steadier week to week performance in the back four. And between Jean and Hillary, there's definitely a chance that the best is yet to come.