In Part II of our preseason roundtable, the Badger Bloggers got together to discuss the defense. Joining me in the roundtable are Duff Beach from On Wisconsin! Scott Tappa of Badgercentric, and Phil Mitten of Hoops Marinara:
Can you believe it has been five years since that great defensive line of 2004? Depth is once again an issue this year, but there seems to be some promise in J.J. Watt among others. Do you see any newcomers stepping up on the D-line to provide some depth?
Badger Centric: It's funny, because when you mentioned 2004, the first thing I thought was "I thought 2005 would be a down year, and we ended up winning 10 games, great year." But that was in spite of the defensive line! Even so, while injuries killed that unit (remember Beckum playing end?), but guys like Shaughnessy, Hayden, and Chapman showed promise. I don't see those guys on this unit. O'Brien is a solid starter. Watt seems to have a Hayden-like ceiling. But are there difference-makers? Doesn't look like it. I'll be happy if these guys can keep offensive linemen off our linebackers.
Hoops Marinara: It's a shame Erasmus and Co. flamed out in the NFL. Maybe they weren't that great after all. In 2009, the Badgers look weak up the middle and that spells trouble. I like O'Brien Schofield, who seems like he should be the emotional leader on the unit. Again, I like the younger guys UW has backing up the end positions, but inside is a question mark.
Bucky’s 5th Quarter: You have to be careful from what comes out of
Speaking of a lack of depth, the linebacking corp. seems to be scrambling to replace Jonathan Casillas and DeAndre Levy. Blake Sorensen didn't have a great spring, but he is still listed ahead of Mike Taylor on the depth chart. Are you worried about the linebackers?
Badger Centric: Yes, very. Don't want to join the chorus questioning Sorenson, but I've never seen it with him. Saw
Hoops Marinara: Sorensen certainly has a lot of expectations to fulfill, but I think along with Culmer St. Jean and J. McFadden they can form a decent group. No one will accuse them of being as athletic as last year's group -- Casillas and Levy were two of the best athletes at that position that
Bucky’s 5th Quarter: I’m excited about McFadden in the middle, but very worried about the other two spots. Culmer
Is it safe to say (and a little scary to say) that the secondary is the strength of the Badger defense? It seems like every guy listed on two-deep has shown flashes of brilliance at some point in the last few seasons, but they also have had their hardships. And will Aaron Henry really be as good as he looked like he would be before the knee injury?
Badger Centric: It is scary, and I'd even question the "flashes of brilliance" assertion. We've seen flashes of competence from these guys, and I'd settled for sustained competence. But every one of the starters has question marks: Henry with the knee, Maragos still learning the position, Valai and his pure hitter MO, and Brinkley giving up big plays. But I'm actually optimistic about these guys and the young guys too. Shane Carter is a wild card, if he could come in and force some turnovers that would be huge.
Hoops Marinara: There's no question that the secondary looks good by comparison. But I think they actually will be good. Henry should be ready to go -- he's one of the elite talents on the team. I'm really excited to see him grow up. The entire makeup of the secondary is intriguing. You have knock-out artist in Valai, an overachiever in Maragos, plus a lot of experience backing those safeties up (Carter and Pleasant). Niles Brinkley is probably the weak link.
Bucky’s 5th Quarter: Remember when Shane Carter led the Big Ten in interceptions two years ago? And Niles Brinkley picked off four passes last season? Why don’t I remember all of this? Oh, because when they weren’t grabbing turnovers they were getting beat for touchdowns and committing crucial penalties. Every member of the starting secondary has a good amount of experience, but how much talent do they have? We’ll find out soon.
What are your thoughts on the defensive coaching staff? Toughness seemed to be an issue at times last season. How will this unit overcome the mental and physical shortcomings that were apparent in 2008?
Badger Centric: I don't know about toughness, it's hard to get to be a guy who plays a lot on a Big Ten defense and not be at least somewhat tough. Remember, there were a lot of injuries on that side of the ball last year: Casillas, Levy, Chapman, Henry, and that hurt productivity. What sticks with me are comments made on my blog after the
Hoops Marinara: It starts at the top with BB. I can't stress enough how much I want the coach to relinquish the Special Teams duties. He needs to set the example being focused and knowing where to be at all times. The good news is if the secondary can be everything I want it to be, that makes the job of pressuring the QB a little easier. I think the offense can be better this year too, which should (hopefully) alleviate the problems the defense had being worn out all the time in tight games.
Bucky’s 5th Quarter: The good news is that fixing these problems was item No. 1 in the off-season. Improving the defense’s mental and physical toughness – and committing fewer mistakes – will give this team an extra win or two this season. And if the problems continue then it will be a major problem for the defensive coaching staff.