Owen Riese: Nose tackle or nickel (third) cornerback. The Badgers don't have a true nose after Olive Sagapolu, and Lubern Figaro has been iffy at best. He'll need to improve.
Dylan Deich: Back-up quarterback. We were asked earlier which player I’m most excited to see; I based that answer a lot on how important Alex Hornibrook will be. If Hornibrook goes down, we’ll have someone (true freshman Jack Coan) going through some on-the-job learning under center. Not great, Bob!
Mike Fiammettta: Man, I’m really struggling to develop unique contributions here. I’ll fuse Owen and Dylan’s responses and say nose tackle and back-up quarterback. Depth is paramount across the board, but especially so at those two positions. For programs as steady as Wisconsin’s, few things have more destructive capabilities than injuries. Hornibrook or Sagapolu missing any extended period of time could present the Badgers with a brutal obstacle.
Ryan Mellenthin: I would have to say the back-up signal caller. If Hornibrook were to go down, Pauly’s offensive machine would be steered by a true frosh in Coan. While Coan was a three-star recruit (247 Sports, ESPN, and Scout), the transition from high school starter to the same role in the collegiate ranks is quite the jump—the kind you don’t want a player being thrust into against Big Ten defenses. While the multiple-quarterback systems of recent seasons drove me nuts at times, they did come with an added safety net. If the “starter” were to get hurt, another experienced signal caller was waiting in the wings.
Neal Olson: Everyone seems to be downplaying( somewhat) Jack Cichy’s season-ending injury due to depth at linebacker. However, the loss of Cichy makes the pass rush the greatest concern for me. Even at his inside spot, Cichy was able to disrupt and pressure opposing quarterbacks. His presence on the field was a big reason the losses of T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel would be minimized. Regardless of stats, Cichy, Watt, and Biegel were the most effective pass rushers a season ago. Can the Badgers find an equivalent level of disruption without those three?
Jake Kocorowski: I’m not necessarily too worried about nose tackle being a position of worry. Even if Sagapolu goes down, Garrett Rand—despite being 70 pounds lighter than Sagapolu—should settle in more in his second season contributing. Plus, there’s always Conor Sheehy, who bumped down to nose tackle last year. I’m not saying the loss of Sagapolu wouldn’t hurt, as I believe he may be the most underrated player on the defense, but the defensive line is one of the deepest squads on this team.
I’d lean more toward a Hornibrook injury and the outside linebacker spot after the news of Zack Baun’s injury. Wisconsin’s offense could be its most potent in years from a multi-dimensional standpoint—with playmakers at running back, wide receiver, and tight end (yes, even fullback... #FullbacksArePeopleToo). Yet if Hornibrook is out for an extended period of time at any point this year, it hampers the potential of this group. There is a big difference between having the southpaw in compared to Coan, who has flashed but is still growing and learning the offense.
Defensive coordinator Jim Leonahrd mentioned Tuesday that with the Baun injury, UW plans to have a three-man rotation between Garret Dooley, Leon Jacobs, and Andrew Van Ginkel. They should get the job done, but if injuries further hit Tim Tibesar’s players, Tyler Johnson and Christian Bell both will need to step up. Something to watch throughout the year.