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2018 Wisconsin defensive line preview: Badgers must replace key contributors

UW’s defensive line will look considerably different in 2018.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Ohio State vs Wisconsin Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin’s 2018 Defensive Linemen

2018 Spring DL 2018 Eligibility
2018 Spring DL 2018 Eligibility
Olive Sagapolu SR
Isaiahh Loudermilk R-SO
Garrett Rand JR
Keldric Preston R-SO
David Pfaff R-JR
Kraig Howe R-JR
Aaron Vopal R-FR
Matt Henningsen R-FR
Gunnar Roberge R-JR
Michael Balistreri R-FR
Bryson Williams FR

Note: Wisconsin officially released its 2018 spring roster on March 12 with no changes from what was projected.

2017 Leaders

DE Alec James (52 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks)
DT Conor Sheehy (35 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks)
NT Olive Sagapolu (17 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 3 sacks)

Who’s Leaving

DE Alec James
DE Chikwe Obasih
DT Conor Sheehy

Early Enrollee

NT Bryson Williams

Key Additions

DE Boyd Dietzen (cousin of Jon)
DE Isaiah Mullens
DE? Cormac Sampson

Position Overview

Almost the polar opposite of their counterparts in the trenches, the Badgers’ defensive line will be starting two fresh faces in 2018. The stalwart in the middle for the past three years, Sagapolu, will be entering his senior season and will anchor a defensive line that will need to catch up to speed quickly if the Badgers hope to replicate their defensive success of 2017.

While you’ve seen Isaiahh Loudermilk and Garrett Rand make plays in the past, they’ll likely be making a lot more in 2018. Loudermilk will be the five-technique weak-side defensive end. He’s a massive athlete at 6’7, 305 pounds. His length is disruptive in the passing game and allows him to control the opposing offensive lineman and make plays on the runner. Rand is a former four-star recruit who has really played out of position for the past two seasons, but due to the heavy attrition along the line, he will slot nicely into the three-technique spot vacated by Sheehy. Rand’s natural leverage at 6’1 will allow him to use his freakish strength to get upfield and be more disruptive than he was the past two years.

The rest of the positions are waiting for someone to step up and really become a solid contributor in a reserve role. Billy Hirschfeld had been in this role for a while, but news came on Thursday that he is no longer with the program.

After that, there are a lot of unknowns. Keldric Preston will likely play the five-technique spot after transitioning from outside linebacker. David Pfaff and Kraig Howe will also likely have opportunities to get some playing time, but there are definite roles to be filled along the defensive front in front of those dominant linebackers.