Why you shouldn’t panic, Exhibit A:
— mara (@castielsperrie) May 30, 2016
Defense be the hammer not the nail! Watch our own Garret Dooley with inside foot up and step into it with leverage. Sound familiar? pic.twitter.com/LfBtWQz2Qj
— Steve Buecker (@SteveBuecker20) October 22, 2016
He’s back, too.
— Josiah Washington (@bigsiah2009) October 1, 2015
3-play stretch from potential Biegel replacement Zack Baun. First play is good, second is OK but the third gets him taken out of the game. pic.twitter.com/eNGKcdqRhA
— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) September 30, 2016
— Andrew Van Ginkel (@AndrewVanGinkel) January 6, 2016
— MALCOM (@tadow97) October 10, 2013
So raise a glass. A toast to Vince Biegel, who did everything short of light his hair on fire for the Wisconsin Badgers’ cause — and given a chance, he might’ve tried that, too. A toast to T.J. Watt, who looked in his first season as a Big Ten starter as if he was born for this, as if he’d been chasing quarterbacks his whole life — and given the bloodlines, maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised.
Biegel’s eligibility clock struck midnight after the Cotton Bowl. Watt, a junior, last week elected to join the family business by declaring early for the NFL, where big brothers J.J. (Houston) and Derek (San Diego) earn their keep.
The Badgers need two new outside linebackers, two new stars raising Cain off the edge. Watt recorded 11.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss this fall; Biegel, despite foot surgery that shelved him for two games, picked up four sacks and six TFL, giving him 12 sacks and 20 TFL over the last two seasons.
Since September 2015, the Badgers were 10-2 (.833) in games in which Biegel recorded a sack. Some dogs howl, some dogs pull the sled.
But if the wacky narrative of 2016 taught us anything, it’s that another lead dog is out there. Somewhere. Or he’s here already. Waiting his turn.
Among their many virtues, the Big Ten West and Cotton Bowl champions were a tribute to depth and to scheme — especially the former. Starting inside linebacker T.J. Edwards missed the opener against LSU game as he recovered from an injured foot. Inside running mate Chris Orr was lost for the season with a knee injury on the first series against the Tigers.
Ryan Connelly picked up the baton. Jack Cichy became a supernova.
They’re both still here.
And Edwards? Orr? Still here.
Connelly wound up tied for third on the team with seven TFLs. Backup outside linebacker Garret Dooley was next with 6.5, picking up 3.5 sacks as Biegel’s understudy. Also still here.
Ditto Zack Baun (3.5 TFLs), a redshirt freshman outside linebacker, along with redshirt freshman Jake Whalen and true freshman Griffin Grady. Import Izayah Green-May plans to enroll early, and JUCO transfer Andrew Van Ginkel, who flew under the radar at FBS South Dakota two autumns ago, plans to do the same. Transfer Christian Bell, another edge-rushing candidate, grayshirted with Alabama.
The defensive line, on paper, is on track to bring back the lot — Alec James, Chikwe Obasih, Conor Sheehy, Olive Sagapolu, the head, the tail, the whole darn thing. As a front seven, the Badgers still have the goods to bang with anybody.
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) October 1, 2016
The cupboard isn’t bare. It’s big, it’s hungry and it can run like the wind.
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has more toys at his disposal than an Amazon.com warehouse. And even if the names change and the stars shoot to pastures new, the division’s best defense is still basking in its prime.