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Wisconsin football: spring musings on the defense and special teams

Who will replace Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal? Who will be the starting kicker? How good can this defense even be? We have a few thoughts!

Syndication: Journal Sentinel
Linebackers Jordan Turner (No. 54) and Maema Njongmeta (No. 55) run through drills during spring practice.
Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

While we were unable to have someone attend spring practice this season, we’ve still heard a lot about what happened and Nick wanted to get some of his thoughts down on paper. Here we have his musings on the defensive side of the ball as well as some brief thoughts on special teams here is the post on the offense.


It’s official: we are only 126 days from having Badgers football back. Unfortunately, that is too long for me to wait, so in order to scratch my itch I am going to attempt to write about spring football!

This may be me trying to manifest something out of spring football that I cannot say I believe with 100% certainty yet, but that doesn’t mean I am not going to say it. Drew gave me the keys to the car so I am going to do some donuts while he isn’t looking. Due to an accumulation of information (happy one year anniversary of that line, Packers fans) we have an official comment.

The defense is going to dominate again

Again this may be manifesting, but I do believe the defense is going to be very, very good again. For as much as they lost from last season at inside linebacker, cornerback and safety, I think it is fair to say Jim Leonhard and co. have been able to replace those guys.

Let’s start with inside linebacker, where Jordan Turner and Tatum Grass emerged as the top pairing heading into fall. Turner flashed whenever he was on the field last year and appears to be headed for a breakout year. Hopefully by the end of next season, he’ll be the next household name at linebacker for Wisconsin. On the other side of him, Grass may be the next Wisconsin walk-on success story, but that story is mostly still unwritten until we know, for sure, he is the starter.

There was never any worry at outside linebacker heading into spring and I think it’s fair to say it’ll be the strength of the defense this year. Nick Herbig didn’t need to prove anything this spring and C.J. Goetz, TJ Bollers, and Daryl Peterson definitely took a big step in the right direction. If the rumblings coming out of practices were true, this could be one of the deepest groups at outside linebacker ever.

Cornerback seems to have reloaded especially through the help of the transfer portal. Justin Clark and Jay Shaw are going to play a lot of snaps for the Badgers next year. Throw in Alexander Smith and Ricardo Hallman and this group should be just fine in the fall.

The defensive line is another spot I have no concerns about as long as they stay healthy. Isaiah Mullens is coming off a nice year and should get the nod to replace NFL-bound Matt Henningsen. Nose tackle Keeanu Benton is going to be the leader upfront this year. I expect a big year from him before he heads to the NFL in 2023. Depth could be an issue on the d-line if one of those two guys gets hurt but Rodas Johnson and James Thompson Jr. will be the reserves that will be eyeing the most playing heading into fall.

Safety is where the greatest concern lies heading into fall. Specifically, safety depth, as Travian Baylock went down with a leg injury about halfway through the spring. His status is uncertain going into the fall but he was a projected starter by all accounts heading into fall.

Right now, it looks like Hunter Wohler and John Torchio will be the starting tandem but one more injury and we may see some movement from another position. That includes Alexander Smith who is said to have the ability to play both cornerback and safety.

(Editor’s note: OLB Nick Herbig has been pushing hard on Twitter for Utah safety Kamo’i Latu, who just entered the transfer portal, to come to Wisconsin. Herbig and Latu were high school teammates in Honolulu.)

Special teams, baby!

My high school football coach used to make us practice special teams every day no matter what. I always took it seriously because it was the only time I was on the field (kick return, hell yeah!).

He called it equally as important as the offense and defense so we would spend at least 30 minutes practicing. Most didn’t really care for it and wanted to get through it as fast as possible. Not anymore though. Not after January of 2022 Packer fans. We not only care about special teams, but we pride ourselves on special teams (trying to do the manifest thing again).

I have no idea who is going to be on each unit this year for the Badgers. I do know they don’t really have a coach? But I’m not gonna pass judgment until I have an idea of what things look like in action so let’s just give some love to the specialists.

Punter, Andy “Strongman” Vujnovich will be bombing balls for UW this year again so that should be great. Peter Bowden, the starting long snapper (shoutout long snappers!), will hopefully never have to have his name written again. I’m told that it’s best if we don’t know the long snapper’s name. WR Stephan Bracey, if healthy, could be a weapon on kick returns too.

Lastly we may have a kicking battle on our hands? The Badgers brought in Arkansas transfer Vito Calvaruso (very cool name) this offseason, and Wisconsin already has Jack Van Dyke who we know has a cannon for a leg, but now R-FR Nate Van Zelst is throwing a wrench into things by being the most consistent of the three this fall. Who knows how this shakes out, but right now this feels like a good problem to have and I think we should embrace it.