Wisconsin Football’s defensive line was defined by injury and inexperience last season, but the unit should be much-improved in 2019.
Pre-Spring Practice Projected Depth Chart
1. Isaiahh Loudermilk – JR
2. David Pfaff – SR
1. Garrett Rand – JR
2.Matt Henningsen – SO
Others in the mix: Aaron Vopal, Kraig Howe, Boyd Dietzen, Isaiah Mullens, C.J. Goetz
1. Bryson Williams – SO
2.Gunner Roberge – SR
Others in the mix: Gio Paez, Keeanu Benton, Rodas Johnson
What to watch for
Wisconsin fans should feel very confident about the starting front with Loudermilk and Rand at defensive end and Williams at the nose.
Loudermilk played in nine games last season with six starts and tallied 15 tackles (8 solo), 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 3 pass breakups, showing just how disruptive a player he can be at the line of scrimmage even in limited action. However, the rising junior was hardly 100 percent throughout the year and ultimately was forced to sit out four games due to injury. Presumably back to full health to start the spring, Loudermilk is poised for a breakout season in 2019 and could emerge as one of the Big Ten’s best defensive ends.
Rand was set to start opposite Loudermilk leading into last season after playing in all 14 games as a rotational piece in 2017, but he went down with a season-ending Achilles injury in June. When healthy, the former 4-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American has proven his ability as a run-stuffer and a guy who can open up opportunities for Wisconsin’s linebackers to make plays. About to take on a primary role for the first time in his career, Rand has some breakout potential as well.
In between the Loudermilk and Rand on the start defensive line will most likely be the sophomore Williams, who played in all 13 games (starting three of them) as the departed Olive Sagapolu’s primary backup at nose tackle in 2018. While Sagapolu leaves some big shoes to fill, Williams is one of the most physically-imposing players on this entire roster and was reliable in his limited action last season. He looks up to the task of holding down the starting nose spot for the next three years and filling Sagapolu’s role as one of the defense’s unsung heroes.
However, things get interesting beyond those three, as there appear to be several players clustered together behind them in the mix to seize reserve roles. Will anyone begin to separate themselves from the back this spring?
The most likely candidates to eat up the majority of snaps behind Loudermilk and Rand on the edges at this point appear to be Matt Henningsen, Aaron Vopal, and David Pfaff, the three most experienced players among the reserves. Henningsen, in particular, should be a solid piece after playing in all 13 games with 10 starts in 2018.
However, don’t be surprised if redshirt freshmen Boyd Dietzen, Isaiah Mullens, or C.J. Goetz have a solid spring and put themselves in contention for playing time this fall. Keep an especially close eye on Mullens: the Ohio native came to Madison as one of the most physically-advanced players in the 2018 recruiting class but clearly needed time to adjust to the additional aspects of playing high-level college football, as many freshmen do. Now that he has had some time in the program, he could very well be ready to contribute this year.
In addition, don’t forget about true freshmen Keeanu Benton, Gio Paez, and Rodas Johnson. The trio will not arrive on campus until the summer, but all three are versatile pieces capable of playing all along the defensive line and could push for immediate snaps.
All stats courtesy of UWBadgers.com