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Post spring practice thoughts: defensive line

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A look at some of the news and notes from spring practice along the defensive line.

Kelli Steffes, UW Athletics

The Wisconsin Badgers football team ended their spring practice period on Friday. After missing out on spring practice last year, having an extra 15 sessions proved to be extremely useful for Paul Chryst’s group. The Badgers didn’t have a spring game, or anything like that, but we were still able to glean a decent amount of information from the open practices and media availability.

Here is an overview of how things look along the defensive line under new d-line coach Ross Kolodziej.

First up, let’s look at what the depth chart might look like heading in to the fall.

Post Spring Depth Chart

Defensive line
Defensive line
DE starter: Matt Henningsen
DE backup: Gio Paez
NT starter: Keeanu Benton
NT backup: Bryson Williams
DE starter: Isaiah Mullens
DE backup: Rodas Johnson

Spring standouts

The return of Matt Henningsen has been notable this spring. Henningsen was one of the more impactful players on the line in 2019, but missed most of last season due to an injury. Reportedly he played exceptionally well this spring.

While Henningsen’s return has been great, the emergence of two younger players has dominated the news up front. Rodas Johnson and Gio Paez both put together really good camps, and set themselves up for potential roles come fall.

Johnson made waves early in camp, and garnered a lot of praise by Kolodziej. Johnson supposedly was having an “unbelievable spring” according to his position coach. With playing time in the rotation available, Johnson is a player to keep an eye on at defensive end.

Paez has taken advantage of extended reps at nose tackle with Keeanu Benton and Bryson Williams banged up. The young defensive end has position versatility, and his strong play this spring could catapult him into consideration for a bigger role in the future at either spot.

True freshman Mike Jarvis also had a solid spring. While he is probably further down on the depth chart, Jarvis is a name to watch down the road. He is an explosive kid that could have a bright future.

Kelli Steffes, UW Athletics

Questions we still have

The major question mark, that stuck with me, from this spring is can this group stay healthy?

Henningsen is back to full health, but he also missed the better part of last season with an injury. Isaiah Mullens missed a few practices this spring with an injury, and James Thompson, Jr. did not participate at all as he recovers from a leg injury. At nose tackle, both Benton and Williams missed large chunks of the spring due to injuries as well.

With so many players that have been banged up, some of the younger players such as Johnson, Paez, Cade McDonald and Jarvis have seen plenty of reps. While those extra opportunities are great for their development, it is concerning for the top of the depth chart.

Having players such Williams and Paez who have cross-trained at both end and tackle this spring should help if an injury does pop up, but it will be interesting to see if the group as a whole can stay relatively healthy in the fall.