The Wisconsin Badgers could be without two significant pieces of their defensive line for an extended period of time, according to a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Jeff Potrykus on Tuesday.
According to one of Potrykus’s tweets, defensive ends Garrett Rand and Isaiahh Loudermilk “will be out indefinitely.” The veteran Wisconsin beat writer reported that Rand “suffered an Achilles injury during summer workouts,” while the 6’7, 297-pound Loudermilk “underwent knee surgery earlier this spring to address previous injuries.”
Potrykus also reported that head coach Paul Chryst was awaiting confirmation about the status of Rand—who bumped out to defensive end from nose tackle this spring—for this season.
According to #Badgers coach Paul Chryst, still waiting on official word on Garrett Rand for 2018. But reading between lines, it doesn't sound good at all. UW will be young, untested up front in '18. Big injuries.— Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) June 12, 2018
Depending upon how long both could be out, their losses will significantly impact an inexperienced, unproven defensive line that has previously been an underrated strength for Wisconsin’s defense the past couple of years.
Outgoing defensive ends Conor Sheehy, Alec James and Chikwe Obasih combined to play 156 games with 90 starts in their time at Wisconsin.
Senior nose tackle Olive Sagapolu is the lone consistent starter returning one the line (36 games played, 19 starts in three seasons), with Rand playing in a key back-up role the past two seasons (28 games played) and Loudermilk seeing action in 11 contests in 2017.
Behind Rand and Loudermilk, redshirt freshman Aaron Vopal appeared to step up during spring practices and worked in first-team reps at times due to injuries. Redshirt junior Kraig Howe, in the last two scrimmages of the spring, recorded 2.5-3 sacks total along with a strip-sack of the now-departed Kare’ Lyles. Redshirt junior David Pfaff and redshirt sophomore Keldric Preston also are on the roster, with defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield telling B5Q at the beginning of spring camp that he wanted the latter to get up to the 265-270 pound range.
In his report, Potrykus also named incoming true freshman defensive end Isaiah Mullens as someone to watch for, who according to his conversations with Breckterfield, believes to be physically ready and will be tested early on in his first fall camp to see if he could contribute.
Mullens, listed at 6’6 and 280 pounds during the early signing period in December, could follow fellow true freshman Bryson Williams as first-year players hoping to add stability on the line.
How Wisconsin could cope with the potential losses on the defensive line will remain to be seen based on its schedule and on Rand’s and Loudermilk’s respective expected recovery times.
Depending upon particular teams who implement more spread-based gameplans, defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and his staff could counter with more subpackages to nullify their attacks. Showing a nickel look, for example, would include fewer linemen on the field in a 2-4-5 subpackage.
On the flip side, in facing a team like Iowa to start the Big Ten Conference schedule against in Iowa City on Sept. 22, that could provide a real test in the trenches where a base 3-4 has been seen and utilized.