Wisconsin football: Meet the Badgers’ defense

The Wisconsin Badgers’ defensive coordinator Dave Aranda begins his second season in Madison and has the task of replacing eight defensive starters, including the entire front seven. The defense lost its All-American first team selection linebacker Chris Borland, so Aranda has his work cut out for him. Here is a position-by-position preview of the Badgers’ defense.

Defensive line

Playing behind 330-pound Beau Allen, nose tackle Warren Herring was asked to slim down for his senior season and is down to 285 pounds. Aranda wants a smaller, quicker defensive line in the unit’s second season playing in the 3-4 scheme.

Herring led the Badgers’ defensive linemen with four sacks and six tackles for loss as a backup.

When Allen was drafted by the Eagles in May, Herring and Bryce Gilbert were the only nose guards on the roster with any experience. Gilbert, who was expected to be the No. 2, left the program in the offseason, leaving concern in the minds of Aranda and head coach Gary Andersen regarding the depth of the position.

After an inconsistent start to camp, redshirt sophomore Arthur Goldberg grabbed ahold of the backup nose guard ahead of true freshmen Jeremy Patterson and Conor Sheehy. Andersen said defensive end Konrad Zagzebski may move to the middle in certain situations, giving Herring a chance to make plays at his first college position.

The senior Zagzebski has four career starts and will start at defensive end alongside redshirt freshman Chikwe Obasih, who moved from third-string defensive end to No. 1 during the spring. Obasih was a four-star recruit, as well as the No. 1 recruit in Wisconsin according to Rivals. Four-star redshirt freshman Alec James was named the state’s top recruit that same season according to ESPN. James will provide depth on the defensive line along with redshirt junior Jake Keefer, who missed all of the 2013 season with a knee injury suffered during training camp.

Linebacker

Borland made 420 tackles, 50 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, recorded three 100-tackle seasons, and set a Big Ten record with 15 forced fumbles. The stats could go on forever, but unfortunately for Wisconsin, Borland is in San Francisco beginning his NFL career for the 49ers.

In addition to Borland, the Badgers lost Ethan Armstrong, Conor O’Neill and Brendan Kelly.

Wisconsin Football

Wisconsin football will have to find a way to replace four-year starter Chris Borland at linebacker. (Photo by David Stluka)

Andersen acknowledged that Borland cannot be replaced with one person. The leader of the unit is senior Derek Landisch, who split time with O’Neill in 2013. He will be joined by Marcus Trotter inside, while junior Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel start as the outside linebackers.

Between the four, they combined to start seven career games.

Aranda has made it a point to put more pressure on the quarterback this season. Trotter brings leadership as a fifth-year senior, but lacks experience playing in just five games in 2013 with one start. Schobert played in all 13 games a season ago and Biegel has the potential to breakout from the outside as a redshirt sophomore.

Andersen has been impressed with backup linebacker Leon Jacobs. He played in every game as a true freshman and should be given more in-game opportunities in his second season. Trotter’s twin brother Michael will be a backup at inside linebacker. Jack Cichy and Jesse Hayes are behind Biegel on the outside.

Secondary

The only three returning starters on defense are in the secondary. Redshirt junior Darius Hillary and sophomore Sojourn Shelton return as starting cornerbacks. Michael Caputo is back as the starting free safety, while Lubern Figaro will start at the other safety spot.

Hillary started every game in 2013 and Shelton’s true freshman season included four interceptions, which tied for third most in the Big Ten.

Redshirt junior Devin Gaulden had is season end early in the 2012 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. After fracturing his kneecap three times, he was forced to miss all of last season. He is back and will be in the mix as the third corner.

Caputo returns after he was the second leading tackler for Wisconsin last year, behind only Borland. He experimented at linebacker in the spring, but the lack of experience at safety moved him back.

The other safety spot was up in the air coming into training camp.

Last year’s safety Dezmen Southward was selected in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons as the first Badger taken. Tanner McEvoy made three starts at safety last year, but will be the Badgers’ starting quarterback this season.

Figaro won the position battle as a true freshman over fifth-year senior Peniel Jean and redshirt sophomore Leo Musso, who has been battling a hamstring injury during camp.

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