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Wisconsin football: Defensive playmakers Darius Hillary, Michael Caputo, outside linebackers shined during fall camp

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Who made an impact in fall camp on the defensive side of the ball?

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Less than one week from today on Sept. 5, the Wisconsin Badgers open the season in Dallas against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Fall camp has ended, with game week preparation now in full go-mode.

B5Q's Curt Hogg and Jake Kocorowski, who covered fall practices, weighed in on who excelled, who surprised and what are the biggest concerns heading into this week on the offensive side of the ball. They now turn their attention to the defense, which has plenty for Badgers fans to be excited about.

Top Performers

Curt: Redshirt senior cornerback Darius Hillary gets the nod here. Last season, there were stretches when he would purely take receivers out of the game (hello, Mike Dudek) en route to quietly earning all-Big Ten honors. The only knock on him was his zero interceptions. This camp, he took advantage of mistakes and made plays all over the field in coverage.

Behind Hillary, outside linebackers Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel had (as expected) strong performances. Redshirt senior safety Michael Caputo was his all-conference self and redshirt freshman Chikwe Obasih solidified the defensive line.

Jake: All the players you mentioned, Curt, are high up there, and what will make this defense very good (if not, great) this season. There's one other person I thought of as one of the top performers, but you mention him in the next section (won't steal your thunder).

I have to say Caputo, because of both what he does on and off the field. After he'd get off the field as the leader of the defense, he'd go to the younger guys and point out intricacies of the defense. As defensive backs coach Daronte Jones said a couple of weeks ago, Caputo not only teaches the secondary where they should be, but also where other position players should align and play at as well. It's why he's a captain of this team.

Biggest surprises

Curt: If I went any other way than Leo Musso on this, you could all rid me of my writing duties at B5Q. The redshirt junior safety unexpectedly earned the starting safety job with his constant ballhawking in the defensive backfield. Sophomore Lubern Figaro, who has been in competition with Musso, didn't play poorly at all, either -- Musso was just that impressive. With redshirt senior Tanner McEvoy playing both ways, it will be interesting to see how the three safeties split time.

True freshmen Chris Orr and Titus Booker also stood out, possibly earning themselves playing time with their performances.

Jake: Musso is the obvious choice. The scrimmage a couple of Saturdays ago really was a microcosm of the way he played during fall camp. He made plays and helped force that mantra of "see ball, get ball" defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's preaching this season.

You mention Orr, but I'll go a step further and say the inside linebacking corp in general surprised me, in a very positive light. This was an area where six of the nine position players listed on that roster were redshirt or true freshmen, and when projected starters T.J. Edwards and Leon Jacobs were injured early in camp, it could have been ugly for the Badgers. Not only did Orr step up, but another true freshman, Alec Ingold, stepped up and played very well.

Maybe the biggest surprise, however, could be redshirt freshman Ryan Connelly -- a (now) former walk-on -- worked his way into the two-deep with Orr. He ability to make plays either at the line of scrimmage or in coverage earned himself playing time this year. Huh, another Wisconsin walk-on contributing to this team -- who would have thought?

Throw in sophomore safety D'Cota Dixon, who's picked up a new position very well after playing inside linebacker last year, and Wisconsin's stacked with talent that'll help in the coming years.

Biggest concerns

Curt: Coming into camp, my answer here would have been depth. Throughout practice, different players considered to be farther down in the depth chart stepped up. As mentioned, Musso, Orr and Booker all played well. Sophomores Derrick Tindal solidified himself as the nickel back, and Natrell Jamerson progressed quickly at cornerback as a converted receiver.

The injuries to Jacobs and Edwards turned out to be opportunities for other players to step up. A mixture of Orr, Ingold, Connelly, Nick Thomas and Keelon Brookins got most of the reps with the first team in their absences (both Jacobs and Edwards have since returned). Senior transfer Kellen Jones took a while to get involved heavily during practice, but showed flashes, as well.

Aranda's group appears to be in good position. I would have to say the biggest concern is the defense's ability to stop the run -- and it's not even a glaring weakness. Schobert and Biegel return as starters in the front seven at linebacker. The defensive line will feature Obasih, Jacob Goldberg and Alec James in much larger roles than before. At inside linebacker, Jacobs and Edwards are new starters.

Jake: Depth and health maybe at the defensive line is my only concern heading into Alabama next Saturday. James is battling through an ankle injury, and senior Jake Keefer was injured last week -- with Chryst mentioning Thursday that he didn't know when he'd return to practice. Obasih and Goldberg absolutely look at the part at defensive ends, with sophomore Conor Sheehy solidifying that nose guard position as the starting three -- but having James and Keefer back can only help when rotating in players on the line. Otherwise, expect redshirt freshman Zander Neuville in on passing situations in the 2-4-5 "peso" nickel package alongside Obasih.