It’s not easy replacing a starter on defense. It’s especially not easy to replace all three of the defensive line’s starters. But that’s exactly what Wisconsin has done.
The Wisconsin Badgers open the 2014 season against LSU in a matter of hours on national television on Saturday night at 8 PM CST on ESPN. One of the biggest question marks heading into the game is how will the Badgers’ revamped defensive line will fair against a tough SEC opponent.
Much like the Badgers’ wide receivers, their defensive linemen are unproven — but talented.
For years Wisconsin’s defensive line was led by a group of three talented players in NT Beau Allen, and defensive ends Pat Muldoon and Ethan Hemer. Those three players made a plethora of big plays and could be counted on, but they’ve all moved on from Madison. So who’s going to take their place?
Senior Warren Herring is taking over the nose tackle position and freshman Chikwe Obasih and senior Konrad Zagzebski will be manning the defensive end positions. Remember the Badgers will be running a 3-4 base defense under head coach Gary Andersen and did so a year ago.
Herring has the most experience of the three new starters. Last year he managed to record four sacks in a backup role. He makes the most of his opportunities, 60 percent of his tackles in 2013 were for a loss. In 2014 he’ll look to create even havoc in the opposition’s backfield.
The most exciting new starter is easily Chikwe. He will be starting for the Badgers as a redshirt freshman and certainly has one of the highest ceilings of any Wisconsin defender. He was a prized recruit and you should not be surprised if he is a household name around the Big Ten at the season’s end.
Zagzebski is a player that’s been patiently waiting his turn to be ‘the guy.’ Although he did snag some quality playing time last year. He was in on 19 tackles a year ago but in 2014 he’ll get countless opportunities to showcase his abilities. His combination of size and speed on the outside can be a real asset for the Badgers this year. If he can play to his potential in 2014, the Badgers could have one of the top defenses in the Big Ten.
Despite the fact that the Badgers lost some really key players on the defensive line, it’s clearly nothing to panic about. It’s just the next man up for the Badgers on the defensive side of the trenches. And the new faces seem up to the challenge.
But the list of players that could make noise this year on the defensive line doesn’t end with those three. Freshman Alec James will certainly get some playing time in 2014 and he’s my dark horse pick to be the best lineman of the four by bowl season. He’s an athletic specimen with incredible strength, what more can you ask for in a defensive lineman?
The other two players that may see some playing time in 2014 are sophomore Arthur Goldberg and junior Jake Keefer. Goldberg is a man of a player weighing in at 290 lbs. The depth that he provides alone at the nose tackle position is a big boost to this defense. Keefer has been around Madison for a few years waiting for his chance. This may be the year. He’s one minor injury at either defensive end position from becoming a routine contributor. Even without injury he should see some playing time, and you better believe he’ll be ready to make his mark.
I for one am excited to see how this group plays against such a daunting foe in LSU. Something is telling me that they’ll hold their own.
DE: Chikwe Obasih
NT: Warren Herring
DE: Konrad Zagzebski
DE: Alec James
NT: Arthur Goldberg
DE: Jake Keefer