15 Mar 2017 05:34 PM EST
-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook drops back to pass. (Image Source: Tony Ding/AP Photo)
Here’s a look at the Wisconsin Badgers football team as they begin their spring:
When Division III transfer Ryan Ramczyk took the field for the first time there were high hopes, but I’m not sure anyone envisioned he might be the first offensive lineman selected in the 2017 NFL Draft, as some analysts project. Bart Houston lost his starting job but regained it for the bowl game, where he went 11 of 12 passing in their Cotton Bowl win. The Badgers offense must also replace runners Corey Clement (1,375 yards, 15 TDs) and Dare Ogunbowale (506 yards, 5 TDs).
Defensively, the biggest losses come at outside linebacker, where bookend pass rushers T.J Watt and Vince Biegel are off to the next level. Watt broke out with a team-high 11.5 sacks last season and was an absolute terror coming off the edge.
Who are the Replacements?
Sophomore David Edwards, a high school quarterback, who came to Madison as a tight end has put on well over 50 pounds in two years. After starting seven games at right tackle as a redshirt freshman last season, he’s already been named the No. 1 left tackle this spring. They’ll be fine at running back, they always are. I love what I saw from the explosive Bradrick Shaw (457 yards, 5 TDs) as a freshman, Taiwan Deal will provide power if he can stay healthy, and Pittsburgh transfer Chris James adds to their depth. I expect them to be even more productive at quarterback this season. Making nine Big Ten starts as a freshman will make southpaw Alex Hornibrook that much better this year. I love his arm talent and poise.
Filling the departures at outside linebacker in Wisky’s 3-4 defense might be the tallest challenge. Senior-to-be Garrett Dooley did start two games a year ago and finished the season with 40 tackles, including 3.5 sacks. I also expect the speedy Zack Baun (3.5 tackles for loss) to build on his freshman season. They will be pushed by junior college transfer Andrew Van Ginkel.
Where are They Deep?
While Ryan Ramczyk is a major loss, the Badgers will return the other four starters along the offensive line. They have seven players back who have experience with the talent to be Big Ten caliber starters, so this could be a vintage Wisconsin O-line in 2017. As sophomores, guard Beau Benzschawel was a second-team All-B1G selection and center Michael Deiter was honorable mention.
The Badgers must replace both starters at outside linebacker, but they couldn’t be deeper inside. Jack Cichy, T.J. Edwards, and Chris Orr have proven they’re above-average starters. Cichy (60 tackles, 7 TFLs, 3 sacks in 7 games) and Edwards (team-leading 89 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 INTs) have performed like all-conference players. Leon Jacobs showed he can hold his own when pressed into duty and I believe Ryan Connelly (59 tackles, 7 TFLs) is ready to breakout as a junior if he can get on the field. If all five stay healthy this could be the deepest unit in the Big Ten.
Daniel Mogollon is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America. He is also a voter for the Thorpe and the Rotary Lombardi Award, as well as the Latino Sports MVP Awards.
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