Wisco Wednesday: How does the Wisconsin Defense Stack Up?

At which positions does Wisconsin have quality depth? Where are they thin?

What are the biggest strengths? Where are there questions?

Who will play on defense for Wisconsin in 2023? A simple question with lots of different names counting toward the answer. As highlighted in the subtitle, there are 2 ways I like to look at a roster.

1st – Strengths and Weaknesses (question marks) among the starters.

2nd – How deep Wisconsin is in a position when the inevitable injury bug strikes.

The defense has 8 returning starters from last year. The 3 losses were big ones though. John Torchio, INT machine, gone. Nick Herbig, pass rush monster, gone, NFL 4th round. Keanu Benton, monster run stuffer, gone, NFL 2nd round.

Thankfully those D-Line losses should be replaceable. The new 3-3-5 defense that Jim Tressel is implementing requires fewer down lineman but asks for more pass rushing from the linebackers. This side of the ball has far fewer transfers than the offense, but it also didn’t have as many holes to fill. 

2023 transfers will be underlined.

Interior D-Line

  • Possible Weakness
  • Concerns about depth

Starters: Rodas Johnson, Isaiah Mullens, Gio Paez (NT)

Depth: Darian Varner, James Thompson Jr., Curt Neal (NT)

Johnson and Mullens are great, and Varner could easily earn a starting spot by week 1. But after the top 3, it’s pretty thin. None of these guys are Watt Bros., but they won’t need to be.

This is a “Possible Weakness” only because I have concerns with NT experience. Paez and Neal haven’t seen much action, but that was because Keanu Benton never left the field last year.  They could be great, we just don’t know as of now.

Edge Rusher

  • Likely Strength
  • Solid Depth

Starters: Darryl Peterson, C.J Goetz

Depth: Jeff Pietrowski Jr., T.J. Bollers

These guys have big shoes to fill with Nick Herbig gone. I think they can handle it. One of these guys will break out as the next Badger pass rush prospect destined for the NFL. Depth is good because I would be comfortable with all 4 guys above starting. Hopefully, we can use a deep rotation to keep guys fresh for the physical B1G matchups against Ohio State and Iowa.


  • Major Strength with tons of Experience
  • Great Depth

Starters: Jordan Turner, Maema Njongmeta

Depth: Jake Chaney, Tatum Grass, Bryan Sanborn

Wisconsin is a linebacker factory. If you see the field in Madison at linebacker, some way somehow, you will make it to the NFL at linebacker. 

Turner and Njongmeta were the top 2 tacklers for the Badgers last year. We don’t know much about the guys behind them, but the competition is so strong, whoever emerges as #3 will be ready to play. 


  • Major Strength
  • Massive Depth Concerns

Starters: Ricardo Hallman, Alexander Smith, Jason Maitre (Nickel)

Depth: Jonas Duclona, Jace Arnold, Amaun Williams (Nickel)

With 3-3-5 being the new base, expect to see a nickel corner on the field for most 1st and 2nd down plays. That brings us to the highlight transfer of the defense. Maitre comes in from Boston College with starting nickel experience running a base nickel defense. 

Hallman and Smith are fantastic starters. They clearly benefited from being around DB specialist Jim Leonhard. Behind them, the Badgers have Duclona and Arnold, both freshmen. Yikes. I understand that they must be good to have earned the 2 spots, but I would be seriously worried about putting a true freshman on the field against Minnesota, Washington State, or god forbid, Ohio State. 


  • Between Good and Great
  • Some Depth Concerns

Starters: Hunter Wohler, Kamo’i Latu, Travian Blaylock (Dime)

Depth: Austin Brown, Owen Arnett, Preston Zachman

Most of the time, there will be 2 safeties on the field: Wohler and Latu. In 3rd and long situations, they will run out 6 DBs, adding 3rd safety Blaylock. Blaylock is good enough to have 1 of the 2 starting spots. So they’ve essentially got 3 guys for 2 spots. Solid.

This room will definitely miss Torchio. Behind those starting 3, it’s all question marks. I can’t even predict the backup for the dime spot. If there are injuries, some young guys will have to step up. 

Special Teams

  • Questions, but likely better than last year
  • Depth is N/A

Punter: Jack Van Dyke

I think he’s OK.

Long Snapper: Peter Bowden

I know nothing about long snappers. And I don’t plan to.

Kicker: Nathaniel Vakos

I’m glad Fickell brought in a transfer. Almost anyone will be better than what we’ve been rolling out the last few years. Special teams were on the back burner for too long in Wisconsin.

Return Specialist: Chimere Dike

Depth: Will Pauling (Punt Returns), C.J. Williams (Kick Returns)

Dike is the return guy for now, but those transfer receivers have speed. I expect one, or both to be returning by the midpoint of the season. 


Want more Walk On Fan? 

Check out last week’s Wisco Wednesday where we look at the Badger offense.

This article was written by Cole Tollison and edited by Hayden Breene

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