As the Wisconsin Badgers prepare for the 2014 season, they find themselves as heavy favorites to win the Big Ten West Division thanks to some key returning talent and a favorable schedule. But for the Badgers to seal the deal this fall, they will have to replace some key talent on defense, particularly on the defensive line. With all the losses they suffered from graduation, they will need senior defensive end Konrad Zagzebski to step up in a major way this season.
The Badgers were able to make a smooth transition to head coach Gary Andersen‘s 3-4 scheme thanks to the big bodies they had in the trenches to occupy blockers last season. But key contributors like Beau Allen, Ethan Hemer, Pat Muldoon, and Tyler Dippel have all moved on leaving a major crater of experience up front. Zagzebski is the only defensive end on the roster with a tackle to his name from 2013 as he will be the groups leading returning tackler with 14.5 tackles, including two tackles for loss, last season.
That puts the mantle of leadership squarely on the shoulders of Zagzebski in 2014. He’ll have to herd a very green group of defensive linemen this fall and get them up to speed quickly to get the Badgers’ season off to a quick start. Their season-opener against the LSU Tigers certainly doesn’t give Wisconsin a lot of room to let new faces ease into playing in the defense at a high level.
That isn’t to say there isn’t potential in this group. Four-star redshirt freshman Chikwe Obasih turned some heads during spring camp and will make a strong push for the staring lineup this fall. Junior Jake Keefer, another former four-star recruit, should also see some time this season. While both have the potential to be impact players, neither has proven it on the field yet.
Wisconsin has a pretty clear path to the Big Ten Championship Game this fall if they can maintain their tough defense in 2014. As the Badgers look for new impact players to step into the starting lineup, look for Konrad Zagzebski to get looked to as a leader of the defense.