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Wisconsin depth chart projections: Defense has promising look under Justin Wilcox

A look at how Wisconsin’s defense could shape up under new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. Here are our projections for the offense.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY Sports

Eight days separate the Wisconsin Badgers and LSU Tigers from the Lambeau Field College Classic presented by Carmex. On Thursday, Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst named quarterback Bart Houston. We projected the offense depth chart earlier Friday.

For the defense, I’ve organized the charts differently from the offense just based on the spots on the line being more concrete and less fluid. Long story short: less questions. Wisconsin's front seven is among the best in the conference, and arguably the nation. The secondary is the only true question mark with three new starters, but new defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard will help mold starters replacing Darius Hillary, Michael Caputo and Tanner McEvoy.

Based off practice observations and media reports, below are B5Q's projected depth chart for the defense. Here are our offense depth chart projections.

First team Second team Contributors
Defensive end Chikwe Obasih Alec James
Nose guard Olive Sagapolu Garrett Rand
Defensive end Conor Sheehy Billy Hirschfeld
Outside linebacker Vince Biegel Garrett Dooley
Inside linebacker Chris Orr Nick Thomas
Inside linebacker Jack Cichy/T.J. Edwards Ryan Connelly
Outside linebacker T.J. Watt Zack Baun
Cornerback Sojourn Shelton Natrell Jamerson Caesar Williams
Free safety Leo Musso Arrington Farrar Patrick Johnson
Strong safety D'Cota Dixon Joe Ferguson Eric Burrell
Cornerback Derrick Tindal Titus Booker

First-team observations

Nothing really stands out here as unexpected except for the injury to inside linebacker T.J. Edwards. The Badgers are spoiled by the fact they have three starting-caliber players on the interior of that position group. Redshirt junior Jack Cichy and sophomore Chris Orr are productive and shouldn’t miss a step in Edwards’ absence.

Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt will form one of the nation's most dynamic duos this season at outside linebacker. This after a year where Biegel and Joe Schobert combined for 17.5 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss. How opposing offenses prepare for both standout players, and for that matter, the front seven, will be interesting to see each week. Watt may be on #scheduledtweet watch for pass deflections, something his older brother, J.J., is known for.

Musso’s received the majority of the reps at free safety, while D’Cota Dixon and Arrington Farrar have gone back and forth with the reps at strong safety, mostly due to Dixon being rested by the coaching staff. This will be a position to watch during the season to see if Farrar, who has distinct size at 6’2 and 212 pounds, can dethrone either of the 5’11 safeties.

At defensive end, redshirt junior Alec James should receive good chunks of snaps in a rotation with Chikwe Obasih and Conor Sheehy. It’s another position full of depth that will be critical with a tough conference schedule and the season-opener against LSU. Olive Sagapolu is the man in the middle; the 6'2, 340-pound nose guard will be an important part of the line taking on interior linemen so the linebackers can make plays.

Second-team and contributors observations

Defensive line is one of those solid position groups for Wisconsin, and true freshman Garrett Rand emerging in the two-deep is a welcomed sign. He’s only 274 pounds but has the physical tools (he bench presses 505 pounds) to hold his ground and shed blockers. I'm intrigued to see how Hirschfeld, a former Hartland Arrowhead product, performs in game action this season and how fares at nose guard.

At outside linebacker, Garrett Dooley and Zack Baun appear to be the next in line to succeed if injuries start to accumulate. Cichy would also be another candidate to bounce back out to that position once Edwards returns from injury. Ryan Connelly and Nick Thomas look to be the next in line at inside linebacker. Connelly, a former walk-on, appeared to have a solid fall camp from practices I attended, while Thomas was out a few practices due to a head injury. True freshman Griffin Grady (another No. 47), worked in a few reps with the former IMG Academy recruit absent.

Many have noted how true freshman cornerback Caesar Williams flashed during fall camp, but I’m not sure if he’ll surpass either junior Natrell Jamerson or redshirt freshman Titus Booker on the depth chart. It’s a pleasant surprise the Grand Prairie, Texas, native worked in and made big plays in back-to-back practices. Sojourn Shelton is gone after this year, with Tindal and Jamerson both seniors in 2017, so any playing time early for a young true freshmen can only help.

Farrar and Joe Ferguson practiced with the second-team defense often, but true freshmen Eric Burrell and Patrick Johnson seem to be rising up the depth chart. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Jeff Potrykus noted how both worked themselves into discussion, with defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard saying he plans to continue pushing them. Head coach Paul Chryst noted during fall camp how the two first-year players aren’t making the same mistakes twice. It’s an early sign of maturity for both mid-Atlantic products, and with Musso the only senior in the group, it will make things quite interesting next season.