TODAY’S POSITION: DEFENSIVE LINEMEN Rating (1-to-10 scale): 7 Projected starters: Defensive end Brendan Kelly (redshirt senior), defensive end David Gilbert (redshirt junior), defensive tackle Beau Allen (junior), defensive tackle Ethan Hemer (redshirt junior).
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Key backups: Defensive end Konrad Zagzebski (redshirt sophomore), defensive end Pat Muldoon (redshirt junior), defensive tackle Bryce Gilbert (redshirt sophomore), defensive tackle Warren Herring (redshirt sophomore).
The breakdown: Wisconsin returns an experienced defensive line, but the Badgers could use a bit more explosiveness up front. Among the four projected starters, Wisconsin totaled 11 sacks and 15 tackles for loss.
The Badgers obviously need a playmaker to step up, and it remains to be seen whether this group has that type of player. But if there is one man in the bunch who is capable of making the leap, Badgers coach Bret Bielema believes David Gilbert may be that player.
A year ago, Gilbert broke his foot before conference games began and wasn’t able to show his full potential. He started the first four games of the season and recorded three sacks with 3.5 tackles for a loss.
Ethan Hemer brings the most experience to the defensive line, having played in 27 games with 20 starts. Last season, he recorded 34 tackles with one sack. He tallied a season-high five tackles against Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game.
Beau Allen has played in 26 games without a start, but he tied for second on the team in sacks last season with four. Teammate Brendan Kelly has played in 25 games with nine starts and has 43 tackles. He started the last eight games a year ago.
The loss of Jordan Kohout certainly hurts Wisconsin on the defensive line. Kohout suffered two minor strokes due to migraine headaches and ended his football career early. He would have provided the Badgers with three players capable of starting at defensive tackle.
Still, Wisconsin has enough pieces to make the defensive line solid for another season.
Best position battle: The Badgers will take advantage of their depth this year, and that means plenty of players will see playing time beyond the four starters.
Expect defensive end Pat Muldoon to see significant playing time. Last season, he appeared in 12 games with 14 tackles. Warren Herring played in eight games with nine tackles.
There is no J.J. Watt-type player in the rotation, so Wisconsin likely will use a by-committee approach on the defensive line and hope it will be enough to slow down opposing offenses.
Best of the Big Ten: 1. Ohio State; 2. Michigan State; 3. Illinois.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has to be pleased with the parts he inherits on the defensive line because the Buckeyes are the best in the Big Ten. Johnathan Hankins is a preseason All-American and has been named to the Bednarik Award watch list. Last season, he recorded 67 tackles with 14 tackles for a loss. He’ll be joined on the line by another NFL prospect in John Simon. Simon made 53 tackles with seven sacks a year ago.
Michigan State loses Jerel Worthy, but William Gholston should have a big season for the Spartans. Gholston led Michigan State’s defensive linemen with 70 tackles last season and is up for several preseason awards in 2012. He and fellow defensive end Marcus Rush gives Michigan State one of the top end combinations in the country. Rush ranked second among the Spartans’ defensive linemen with 58 tackles last season.
Illinois returns Michael Buchanan and Akeem Spence. Buchanan recorded 64 tackles and ranked fourth in the Big Ten with 7.5 sacks. Spence was fourth on the team with 69 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for a loss. Last season, the Illini finished first in the Big Ten in passing defense (162.3 yards per game) and second in rushing defense (123.8 yards per game).