The Wisconsin Badgers began spring ball on Saturday, marking the first time that media were in attendance for a practice under new head coach Luke Fickell, and it was certainly an intriguing watch with tons of moving parts.
Here were the rotations on defense on Day 1.
First-team #Badgers defense from my notes:— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) March 25, 2023
OLB Darryl Peterson
DL Isaiah Mullens
DL Rodas Johnson
OLB C.J. Goetz
LB Maema Njongmeta
LB Jordan Turner
CB Alexander Smith
CB Ricardo Hallman
CB Jason Maitre
S Hunter Wohler
S Travian Blaylock
Second-team #Badgers defense from my notes:— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) March 25, 2023
OLB Kaden Johnson
DL Ben Barten
DL James Thompson
OLB Jeff Pietrowski
LB Jake Chaney
LB Tatum Grass
CB Avyonne Jones
CB Jonas Duclona/Jace Arnold
NCB Amaun Williams
S Kamo'i Latu
S Austin Brown/Owen Arnett
As I hinted at coming into spring ball, the Badgers utilized last year’s defensive ends on the interior now, with Isaiah Mullens and Rodas Johnson serving as the base in the 2-4-5 look that was primarily seen on Saturday.
James Thompson Jr. and Gio Paez served as the second-team defensive linemen, while Ben Barten and Cade McDonald worked in after them.
With the loss of Keeanu Benton, the Badgers are electing to go a different route, utilizing more versatile defensive linemen, rather than the traditional nose tackle, given the depth at the latter position.
It’ll be interesting how the Badgers adjust once Temple transfer Darian Varner, who was seen in a boot on Saturday, returns to practice, as the first-team All-AAC player should see playing time this season.
In addition to Varner, defensive lineman Mike Jarvis did not practice due to injury.
The Badgers trotted out their same starting outside linebackers as the bowl game, as Darryl Peterson and C.J. Goetz worked with the first-team defense, with Kaden Johnson and Michigan State transfer Jeff Pietrowski rotating behind them.
For the inside linebackers, it was much of the same as the Badgers returned starters Jordan Turner and Maema Njongmeta, while Tatum Grass and Jake Chaney earned reps with the second-team defense.
In addition to working opposite Johnson, Pietrowski saw outside linebacker reps with freshman Jordan Mayer on the outside.
There were several players in the position group who didn't practice due to injury: Ross Gengler, Aaron Witt, Luna Larson, and Aidan Vaughan.
Defensive coordinator Mike Tressel primarily worked with the inside linebackers, while head coach Luke Fickell oversaw the entirety of practice, allowing the position coaches to do their jobs.
The cornerback room was one of the bigger question marks coming into the offseason, as the Badgers were losing Cedrick Dort Jr., Jay Shaw, and Justin Clark, who all played significant roles in the secondary last season.
However, Wisconsin landed transfer Jason Maitre from Boston College, who was a starter in the nickel for the Badgers on Saturday, working alongside Alexander Smith and Ricardo Hallman, who had a solid day with the first-team defense.
The cornerback room is one of the youngest for the Badgers, as the second-team defense consisted of redshirt freshman Avyonne Jones and a mixture of true freshmen Jonas Duclona and Jace Arnold on the outside, while redshirt junior Amaun Williams earned reps in the slot.
Four-star freshman Braedyn Moore was listed as a safety by the Badgers, but the Ohio product worked in with the nickel corners as the third-stringer on Saturday.
In the reps he received, Duclona’s speed was certainly present, which could play a role in him earning playing time earlier in his career with the Badgers.
The Badgers have capable safeties, which could eat into some playing time for the cornerbacks, but it looked like a solid unit initially on Saturday, albeit without any representation of tackling.
In injury news, cornerback Max Lofy did not practice on Saturday.
The Badgers utilized three-safety looks significantly down the stretch after Hunter Wohler re-joined the lineup, but starter John Torchio is departing for the NFL Draft.
Wohler saw reps with the first-team defense on Saturday, but it wasn't his counterpart, Kamo’i Latu, alongside him.
Rather, Travian Blaylock, who wore a yellow non-contact jersey, was beside Wohler with the first-team defense, while Latu worked with Austin Brown and Owen Arnett on the second-team defense.
One major element that will need to improve with the safety unit is their angles en route to making tackles.
The issue was present in the secondary last season, and glimpses were there again on Saturday, but there's a ton of time for the Badgers to shore up those issues.