Dienhart: What I'll be watching at Wisconsin fall practice
It’s all rolling for Paul Chryst and Wisconsin, which are looking to defend their Big Ten West title. And, things are looking good in Madison, where the Badgers are the pick of many to return to Indianapolis for the league title game.
But there is work to do. A new dynamic: Chryst will be on his third defensive coordinator in three years, as he promoted defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard to take over what has been one of the top defenses in the nation in recent years. Another big hole is at running back with Corey Clement gone.
Here are five things I’ll be watch in practice.
1. Running back. Corey Clement is gone. Who will be the next star running back in Madison? There are some nice options, including Bradrick Shaw and Pitt transfer Chris James. These two may end up sharing the load. It will be fun to watch the competition.
2. Offensive line. This unit wasn’t up to its usual standards in recent years. But it sounds like this could be a vintage Badger front even with Ryan Ramczyk gone a year early to the pros. The interior looks boffo with Jon Dietzen and Beau Benzschawel at guard and Michael Deiter at center. David Edwards and Patrick Kasl are nice options at tackle.
3. Secondary. Some think this may be one of the best defensive backfields in the Big Ten … and maybe the nation. Really. CB Scott Nelson is a transfer from Hawaii who is the real deal. He’s a pro. Derrick Tindal is no slouch opposite Nelson. D’Cota Dixon is a veteran safety. Add it all up, and this may be the strongest part of a very strong defense.
4. Linebackers. T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel are gone, both now in the NFL, and Jack Cichy recently tore an ACL, but there may not be much of a drop at this spot. Garrett Dooley and Zack Baun are locked and loaded on the outside with T.J. Edwards and Chris Orr, back from injury, inside. Ryan Connelly and JC Andrew Van Ginkel offer depth.
5. Kicker. Rafael Gaglianone missed most of last year with a back injury. How is he banging the ball? He hit 7-of-8 field-goals in the first three games of 2016 before being sidelined. He can be a big weapon.