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Wisconsin football: Badgers defense shines again during Monday's afternoon practice

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Wisconsin's defense was the highlight of Monday's afternoon practice, while injuries continue to impact the offensive line.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The defense won the day with three interceptions as the injuries to the offensive line continued Monday for the Wisconsin Badgers.

Starting cornerbacks Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary both intercepted one pass each and safety Lubern Figaro added one toward the end of practice.

"We can create takeaways that can change the game and we're going to need to," Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. "We have not up to this point as far as the past two seasons have gone."

In 2014, the Badgers forced 17 turnovers, 10th most in the Big Ten -- a total that included no interceptions from Shelton and Hillary.

It was more than just the takeaways that stood out during Monday's practice. During 11-on-11 drills, the defense kept the offense out of the end zone for the entirety of the 30-minute segment. Redshirt sophomore defensive end Chikwe Obasih swatted a ball at the line of scrimmage and the defense put consistent pressure on Badgers quarterbacks throughout the practice.

The carousel continues at offensive line

As true freshman Jon Dietzen and junior Ryan Ramczyk returned to the field, redshirt freshman Micah Kapoi took the first-team reps at right guard during both of Wisconsin's practices.

"Micah, through some opportunities that opened started to show some detail and physical play and the ability to get the job done," offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. "He's earned more reps from that and put himself in a good situation."

With Kapoi at right guard, redshirt freshman Michael Deiter moved over to left guard. Redshirt senior Ray Ball, who had been receiving first team reps at left guard for the past two weeks, was out Monday with a right arm injury.

Ball's absence just added to the plethora of injuries that have hit the Badgers front line. With multiple pieces missing, Rudolph has been taking looks at multiple linemen with the first team. Kapoi's turn came Monday, and he impressed his coach.

"Just throwing stuff against the wall," Rudolph joked about how he made the decision to insert Kapoi with the first team. "With a line there's a lot that goes into it. Michael has always been a left tackle throughout high school...he really made a pretty seamless transition there.

"Micah was more than comfortable being at the right [guard]. I just wanted to see it today."

Monday was no relief as the injuries continued to mount up on the line for the Badgers. Redshirt junior Walker Williams, who was practicing with the first team at right tackle, left practice with a head injury. Rudolph spoke highly of Williams' replacement, Jacob Maxwell -- yet another redshirt freshman who was forced into a role with the first team.

"Jacob is to me, is getting more and more comfortable with Jacob," Rudolph said. "Getting more and more comfortable with who he is. The talent level isn't a question with him. It's just when he gives himself the ability to be the best him, he's going to be fine. I think he's getting there quick."

Badgers' depth shining through

Now in the third week of summer camp, injuries have unceasingly been one of the main storylines. Despite the heavy amount of players unable to practice, Aranda and Rudolph have both found a silver lining.

On defense, the two major injuries came to starting inside linebackers Leon Jacobs and TJ Edwards. With Jacobs returning to practice Monday, both have recovered and are now back with the first team.

"I'm thankful for it now," Aranda said of the injuries forcing others to get more reps.

"I think there are some growing pains and some learning curves. Now that's behind us, you really feel good about the depth. Overall, it was a positive thing. It's good to have—if you're calling your redshirt freshman vet—good to have your vets back."

In the secondary, redshirt junior safety Leo Musso continued his strong showing. He was practicing with the first team defense over sophomore Lubern Figaro, who opened camp ahead of Musso on the depth chart.

"What's different this fall camp as opposed to some other camps, is when the play is coming his way he's making those plays," Aranda said. "You want to be able to see that continue with him."

As Tanner McEvoy keeps practicing with the offense, the play of both Musso and Figaro could ease his physical load as he plays on both sides of the ball.

"With the possibility of Tanner playing offense as well as defense, you want to able to have people to step up at the safety position," Aranda said. "I think we're having that right now. Musso's really played well and has put some consistent days together. Lubern, the past couple days, has really turned the corner and played well."

The offensive line was missing Ball in addition to redshirt freshman Beau Benzschawel and redshirt sophomore Hayden Biegel during practice. The cycle of injuries to the unit has given Rudolph the opportunity to get significant looks at other players.

"It's neat seeing guys jump into different spots and make it work," Rudolph said. "No one's alarmed when their name is called, so that's good."

Notes and observations

  • The second-team offensive line consisted of Ramczyk (LT), Brett Connors (LG), George Panos (C), Logan Schmidt (RG) and Maxwell (RT).
  • Junior running back Corey Clement was not active for parts of Monday's practice. During the morning special teams session, he stretched and rode the stationary bike on the sidelines. In the afternoon, he participated fully in position drills, but the Badgers wanted looks at their backup running backs during full-team drills. No injury was reported on the junior.
  • Junior quarterback Bart Houston worked with the second-team offense.
  • On the drive before the interception by Figaro, Hornibrook led the offense down inside the five-yard line during the two-minute drill. The big gainer came on a pass of 40-plus yards to sophomore receiver Krenwick Sanders.
  • McEvoy was wearing the red jersey once again as he worked exclusively with the offense.
  • During special teams drills, Alex Erickson, George Rushing and Jazz Peavy practiced returning kicks.
  • T.J. Watt sighting! The tight end-turned-outside linebacker reached around redshirt freshman running back Taiwan Deal to break up a pass across the middle.
  • A significant number of players returned to practice from injuries. Joining Jacobs, Dietzen and Ramczyk were Zack Baun, Robert Wheelwright, Caleb Kinlaw and Eric Steffes. Baun practiced in a non-contact yellow jerseyIn the event of a Badgers onside kick, expect junior Andrew Endicott to be the one taking it. His kicks looked the best as the special teams practiced in the afternoon.