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Wisconsin football: Saturday’s fall camp report (defense)

An overview of what went down at Saturday’s practice for the defense.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 21 Maryland at Wisconsin Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Wisconsin Badgers football team is in the middle of a fall camp in preparation for their home opener against Penn State in just under a month, and we at B5Q had the chance to check out their ninth practice on Saturday morning.

With two of our writers in attendance, we went ahead and split out the practice reports so that each of them could focus on a specific side of the ball while watching.

Keep reading for a breakdown of the defense and then head over to read up on the offense from Tyler.

Overall the defense was extremely strong on Saturday and severely outplayed the offense for the majority of the day.

Defensive line: Even with Keeanu Benton not in attendance (not injury-related), the defensive line looked very stout against the run. Matt Henningsen, Bryson Williams and Isaiah Mullens worked with the top group in the base defense, with Henningsen and Mullens also staying in for nickel.

I thought that Mullens had a nice day and I liked what I saw from a trimmed down Bryson Williams at NT. That group was active and seemed to have the upper hand against the reworked offensive line.

Running with the twos I saw Gio Paez at the nose, with James Thompson Jr. and Rodas Johnson each at one end. Thompson Jr. jumped a couple of times on would-be offsides penalties, but he was very physical and did some nice things. Johnson was quick from his end position and blew up a pair of run attempts that I saw.

Outside linebacker: I thought that the outside linebacker group played really well with pads on. Nick Herbig displayed his ability to bend and get around the edge frequently. He also dropped into coverage and nearly had an interception. If he didn’t have a cast on his hand/wrist I think he would have come down with it. Herbig and Noah Burks ran with the top group most of the day, but Spencer Lytle and CJ Goetz got plenty of work with the second wave. Lytle had a one-on-one rep in a pass-rushing situation that was really impressive, plowing through Tanor Bortolini, and he also had a couple of stops against the run. Darryl Peterson also earned plenty of reps and looks the part early in his career with the third group.

In speaking with Jim Leonhard after practice he acknowledged that he feels like the outside linebacker group is deeper and that there should be an ability to rotate more players in to keep guys fresh. I think the pass rush will be much improved this season.

Inside linebacker: There were a lot of players that stood out defensively for the Badgers on Saturday, but Leo Chenal was everywhere. He and Jack Nelson had some violent battles inside that were fun to watch, but Chenal won more battles than he lost by my count. Chenal had multiple TFLs, a would-be sack, a tipped pass, and an interception from his starting spot.

Behind the starting group of Chenal and Jack Sanborn, I was impressed by Jordan Turner. He was working alongside Mike Maskalunas with the second group up throughout practice and made a couple of standout plays. In a red-zone drill, he knifed through the line to bury the ball carrier near the line of scrimmage.

The third group was comprised of Maema Njongmeta (who had a nice TFL of his own) and Jake Ratzlaff. Ratzlaff is still working to add weight to his frame, but he nearly had a one-handed interception in coverage.

Cornerback: Caesar Williams and Faion Hicks maintained their top status in the cornerback room. Williams had a pretty interception in coverage early and was really good all day long. When the Badgers went to nickel it was Alexander Smith who was first up most of the time, with Hicks sliding inside to play the slot.

At this point, Smith, Donte Burton, and Dean Engram appear to be the next group of cornerbacks vying for playing time, though Semar Melvin also saw reps at times. Engram was burnt on a long touchdown reception by Kendric Pryor from Graham Mertz, but outside of that connection, the cornerbacks out-dueled the wide receivers most of the day.

Safety: The other player that really turned heads today was John Torchio. The junior safety was all over the field making plays. He demonstrated an ability to not only help out in run support but was tremendous in coverage. He recorded a pair of deflected passes and also had a would-be pick-six in a team setting. After practice, Jim Leonhard was very complimentary of Torchio who is having one of the best camps of anyone on the roster. Torchio was working with Travian Blaylock as the second group of safeties, but I think he will see plenty of playing time this year.

Scott Nelson had a nice blitz off the edge in a team drill for a would-be sack from Mertz’s backside as he ran untouched as well.

Preston Zachman and Hunter Wohler worked in with the second and/or third group, with Zachman dropping Jack Eschenbach with a big hit that started up a team-wide scuffle. Wohler moved really well and looks the part as a true freshman. I noticed that he was also working with the first group in kick return, I would expect him to play a role this season. I didn’t see Max Lofy earn reps during team time at safety, but he did record an interception off Danny Vanden Boom in a one-on-one drill.