Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Wisconsin DL Conor Sheehy is among the more vital members of the Badgers' defense.

Wisconsin’s indispensable players on defense, pre-draft workouts for ex-Badgers and more

We hope you’ll start your day with us here at the Landof10.com as we work to prepare you for everything that you need to know — Monday through Friday — around the world of Wisconsin sports. Whether it’s football, basketball, hockey or just a wild story we hope you’ll find interesting, we’re here to share it all with you.

Today is Wednesday, May 24, and this is what’s for breakfast.


Mr. Indispensable (aside from Mr. Obvious)

Alex Hornibrook is Wisconsin’s most indispensable player on either side of the ball. If the sophomore quarterback goes down, the Badgers might struggle to move the ball with redshirt freshman Karé Lyles or true freshman Jack Coan under center. That’s not to say those two won’t be good players at some point in their careers — they likely will be — but from what we’ve seen from them so far, they just aren’t ready. So Hornibrook’s indispensable status is accepted.

But what if we separate Hornibrook from the equation and focus strictly on the defense? Is there a single player that the Badgers couldn’t afford to lose on that side of the ball? History would tell us the answer is no; the defense has continually overcome injuries in recent years to put a unit out on the field that could compete with almost anyone in the country.

Still, being forced to choose the most indispensable players on defense is a worthwhile exercise, so that is what we have come up with.

1) S D’Cota Dixon

Wisconsin safety D’Cota Dixon (14) needs to stay healthy for the Badgers to reach the heights many think they can in 2017. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

A fiery leader and a productive player, Dixon is the epitome of the diversity the Badgers want in their defensive backs. Comfortable playing near the line of scrimmage, Dixon had 60 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 4 quarterback hits as a junior last season, while also proving more than adept in coverage with a career-high 4 interceptions. He tops the list not only because of his level of play but also because of the lack of proven players who could be called upon to replace him.

2) OLB Garrett Dooley

The lone holdover from last season’s largely three-man rotation at outside linebacker, Dooley is being looked at to lead a young and rather inexperienced unit. He posted playmaker type numbers (6.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks) despite not seeing the field as much as his higher profile ex-teammates Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt. Wisconsin has some intriguing pieces at outside linebacker, but losing Dooley for any period of time would be a significant hit.

3) DL Conor Sheehy

Wisconsin doesn’t have a more diverse lineman on its roster than Sheehy. He can line up at defensive end and nose tackle in the base 3-4 defense, while also being a vital member of the nickel package as a defensive tackle. His absence in the Big Ten title game due to injury was an underrated aspect of the Badgers’ second-half collapse. Without him, others were forced into roles they weren’t necessarily comfortable in. To be at their best, the Badgers need the senior on the field as much as possible.

4) CBs Nick Nelson/Derrick Tindal

The Badgers can’t afford to lose one of their two starting cornerbacks. It’s not that they don’t have several young guys at the position they like, but most are unproven and aren’t yet at the level of Nelson and Tindal. Their confidence, especially Tindal’s, is infectious for the defense and would be sorely missed.

Special mention: Inside linebackers

Wisconsin proved last season that it can overcome the loss of key players at inside linebacker, but that doesn’t mean the Badgers want to do it again. In an ideal world, senior Jack Cichy and junior T.J. Edwards would stay healthy all season, leaving junior Ryan Connelly and sophomore Chris Orr is reserve. That depth is the only reason Cichy and Edwards — two of the best players on Wisconsin’s defense — didn’t make the cut.

More workouts

Much of our NBA draft focus here has been on former Badgers Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. Obviously, they are the two with the best shot of getting drafted and playing in the league, but they aren’t the only former Wisconsin players pursuing a pro career. That was on display on Tuesday when F Vitto Brown worked out for the Milwaukee Bucks and G Zak Showalter was in Chicago to work out for the Bulls.

Both know NBA careers are not likely, but the workouts — and the exposure they give — will heighten the players’ chances of getting an invite to play on a summer league team and play overseas.

Showalter joked at the Wisconsin Sports Awards earlier in May that he’s more than happy to play basketball as long as someone is willing to give him a little money to do so. Days like Tuesday should help that.

Moss gets prison time

Not much has gone right for former Wisconsin RB Brent Moss since earning MVP honors in the 1994 Rose Bowl. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Brent Moss should be considered among the biggest heroes in Wisconsin football history. His 1993 campaign in which he ran for 1,637 yards and 16 touchdowns in the Badgers’ run to Big Ten and Rose Bowl titles still live in the minds of many fans. Unfortunately, in the 24 years since that magical year, Moss’ life has gone where few imagined it could have — all the way to prison. Last week, Moss was sentenced to a year in prison following his conviction on heroin and cocaine possession charges, according to the Racine Journal Times.

The sentencing came more than a year after Moss was arrested on the charges and continues a string of legal issues that date all back to his senior year at Wisconsin. In 1994, Moss was suspended from the football team for drug possession. It’s a tough thing to see your heroes reduced to an inmate, and it’s likely why his former coach Barry Alvarez told ESPN last year that when he heard about Moss’ latest arrest he “just wanted to cry.” A lot of Badgers fans likely feel the same way about someone so essential to turning Wisconsin football around in the early 1990s.

Catching up