NCF Nation: Jordan Kohout

Wisconsin-Michigan State pregame

October, 22, 2011
10/22/11
7:45
PM ET
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- A few notes from warmups as we get set for No. 6 Wisconsin at No. 16 Michigan State.
  • Wisconsin top wide receiver Nick Toon went through warmups and didn't seem limited. Toon missed last week's game against Indiana with a left foot injury and had surgery on the foot during the offseason.
  • Badgers starting defensive tackle Patrick Butrym also warmed up but seemed to be favoring his left ankle, which he injured last week against Indiana. Butrym worked alongside fellow starter Ethan Hemer. Jordan Kohout likely would be the next man in at defensive tackle.
  • As expected, sophomore Denzel Drone worked as the starting defensive end in William Gholston's spot. Corey Freeman likely would be the next man in behind Drone.

Much more to come from Spartan Stadium. Don't forget to chat with us throughout the game.
Wisconsin had few surprises on its Week 1 depth chart, starting with the quarterback position.

NC State transfer Russell Wilson is listed as the Badgers’ No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart, released Monday night. Sophomore Jon Budmayr, who has been battling elbow problems and could need surgery, is listed as the backup.

Wilson has taken most of the reps with the first-team offense during preseason practice, drawing excellent reviews from his coaches, teammates and media members allowed to watch the workouts. He started the past three seasons for NC State and was named runner-up for ACC Offensive Player of the Year in 2010. Wilson threw for 8,545 yards and 76 touchdowns with 26 interceptions in his NC State career.

Wisconsin players voted Wilson a co-captain for the season even though the quarterback only joined the team in early July.

Other notes from the Badgers’ depth chart:
  • Josh Oglesby is listed as the starter at right tackle ahead of freshman Rob Havenstein.
  • Junior Shelton Johnson has won the starting strong safety spot after competing with Dezmen Southward throughout camp. He’ll play alongside Aaron Henry.
  • Sophomore Ethan Hemer is listed as a starting defensive tackle ahead of classmate Jordan Kohout.
  • Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie are listed as co-starters at cornerback opposite All-Big Ten selection Antonio Fenelus. Smith entered camp with the inside track for the job but has been pushed by Cromartie, a talented junior.
  • Two other co-starters are listed: running backs Montee Ball and James White (no surprise) and kickers Philip Welch and Kyle French (bigger surprise). Welch is a three-year starter who coach Bret Bielema still likes to push in practice. Listing French as a co-starter seems like one way to light a fire.
  • White also is listed as a starting kick returner with receiver Jared Abbrederis. Is this too risky with the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year? Perhaps, but Wisconsin could use White’s speed as it replaces David Gilreath.
The position rankings move from offense to defense. We'll start with the group that has produced more Big Ten stars than any other position group in recent years.

The Big Ten had five defensive linemen, all from different teams, selected in the first round of April's NFL draft: Wisconsin's J.J. Watt, Illinois' Corey Liuget, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn and Ohio State's Cameron Heyward. Iowa lost three starting D-linemen to the draft, and almost every Big Ten squad has to replace major contributors.

The personnel losses make the preseason D-line rankings both tricky and fun. The first three groups look very good, while there's not much difference in the middle of the league.

Let's take a look:

[+] EnlargeJared Crick
Brett Davis/US PresswireJared Crick and Nebraska join the Big Ten as the league's top defensive line.
1. Nebraska: The Big Ten's newest member should fit in well with its strong play up front. Star defensive tackle Jared Crick stiff-armed the NFL draft and returned for his final season, giving Nebraska a terrific centerpiece up front. He'll be complemented by veterans Baker Steinkuhler and the mustachioed Cameron Meredith. If converted linebacker Eric Martin builds off of a strong spring, Nebraska should be fine at the end spot.

2. Ohio State: Heyward's leadership and versatility will be missed, but Ohio State always finds ways to fill the gaps up front. Junior John Simon should be primed for a breakout season. Like Heyward, Simon can play both line spots but might see more time on the edge this fall. Nathan Williams adds experience at end, and promising sophomore Johnathan Hankins could wreak havoc on the interior this fall.

3. Michigan State: Like several Big Ten teams, the Spartans build their line around a potential superstar tackle in Jerel Worthy. The junior already is projected as a potential first-round pick in the 2012 draft after recording four sacks last fall. Anthony Rashad White emerged this spring as a nice complement to Worthy. Michigan State needs a better pass rush from the end spots, and hopes are high for William Gholston and Tyler Hoover.

4. Wisconsin: Watt is a huge loss because he contributed in so many ways, but Wisconsin could account for his production with greater depth. Ends Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert both have played a lot of football, and junior Brendan Kelly came on strong toward the end of spring practice. Senior tackle Patrick Butrym has emerged as one of the leaders on defense. Wisconsin needs young tackles like Jordan Kohout and Beau Allen to help Butrym.

5. Michigan: This is a projection pick, but I think Michigan's defensive front takes a significant step forward this season. Senior tackle Mike Martin is a bona fide NFL prospect and will lead the way, and players like Ryan Van Bergen and Craig Roh should be among the primary beneficiaries of the new defense under coordinator Greg Mattison. Michigan needs to build depth with Jibreel Black, Will Campbell and others, but there's great potential here.

6. Iowa: The Hawkeyes face a tough task in replacing multiyear starters in Clayborn, Christian Ballard and Karl Klug. Senior tackle Mike Daniels is ready to lead the group after recording 11 tackles for loss and four sacks in 2010. The biggest key is getting Broderick Binns back to his 2009 form. Iowa also needs to build depth with Lebron Daniel and others, and avoid major injuries.

7. Purdue: Defensive tackle is a major strength for Purdue as Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston Jr. form one of the league's top tandems. Short quietly turned in an extremely productive season last fall (12.5 TFLs, 6 sacks). The big unknown is how Purdue replaces Kerrigan. The Boilers need veteran Gerald Gooden to stay healthy and others to emerge alongside him.

8. Penn State: Much like Purdue, Penn State looks strong at tackle and has question marks at end. Devon Still could contend for All-Big Ten honors after a terrific performance in the Outback Bowl against Florida. Still and Jordan Hill should lock up the middle, but Penn State needs Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore to get healthy at the end spots. If not, the Lions will turn to unproven players to spark their pass rush.

9. Illinois: Liuget is a significant loss in the middle and Illinois also must replace veteran end Clay Nurse. The Illini will rely on Akeem Spence to step in for Liuget, and Spence showed some good things this spring. There's talent on the edges with Michael Buchanan, Whitney Mercilus and others, but Illinois needs more consistent production.

10. Northwestern: This group took a step back last fall and got manhandled down the stretch as Northwestern hemorrhaged yards and points. Senior end Vince Browne is a playmaker who put up impressive numbers (15.5 TFLs, 7 sacks) in 2010. He'll need help from tackles Jack DiNardo and Niko Mafuli, and Tyler Scott could provide a lift at the other end spot. The Wildcats need their line to regain the edge it displayed in 2008.

11. Indiana: It wouldn't surprise me to see Indiana's front four rise up these rankings during the season. There are some nice pieces back, namely senior end Darius Johnson, who can be a force when healthy. Junior Adam Replogle has been productive at defensive tackle. There's plenty of competition at the other two spots as Indiana tries to turn a page on defense.

12. Minnesota: The Gophers' pass rush was practically invisible in 2010, as they finished last nationally in sacks (9). The good news is new defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys will turn his linemen loose more often, giving players like Brandon Kirksey chances to make plays. We've heard a lot about Minnesota's talent up front but haven't seen nearly enough production on Saturdays.
As we move closer to the season, I'll be ranking the Big Ten, position by position. After some deliberation, I've decided to change things up and rank only the top 5 units from around the league. While I know you love to rag on the lower-ranked teams and send me spirited e-mails if your team comes in at No. 11, I don't really see much difference between the units ranked in the bottom half of the league.

No intelligent fan base should be celebrating, "We're No. 6!" Truth: your team's unit is probably a lot closer to No. 11 than No. 1. If a certain position group is stacked at the top, I'm open to including multiple teams tied for the No. 5 spot.

The criteria: past performance, 2010 potential, game-changing players and overall depth.

Let's get it started with the defensive line.

1. Iowa: The Hawkeyes' front four is not only the best in the Big Ten, but quite possibly the country (Rivals.com thinks so). Everyone knows about beastly defensive end Adrian Clayborn, but Broderick Binns can be just as effective on the other edge. Veterans Karl Klug and Christian Ballard solidify the middle. This group can flat out dominate games, as it showed last season against Penn State and Georgia Tech, and should be even better in 2010. My lone concern: depth.

2. Ohio State: You know a position group will be fine when three key contributors (Thaddeus Gibson, Doug Worthington, Todd Denlinger) depart and there's talk of even better days ahead. Cameron Heyward could be the Big Ten's most disruptive defensive player, as USC and Penn State learned last season, and there's a lot of optimism about young players like John Simon, Melvin Fellows and Garrett Goebel. Dexter Larimore brings experience to the interior line.

3. Penn State: Like Ohio State, Penn State can lose key players like Jared Odrick up front and not miss a beat. We should know better than to doubt veteran line coach Larry Johnson, who recruits and develops players better than just about anyone. Penn State has high hopes for defensive end Jack Crawford, and veteran tackle Ollie Ogbu also returns. Odrick leaves a major void in the middle, but the Lions expect big things from Devon Still if he can stay healthy.

4. Purdue: I'm taking a little leap of faith here, as Purdue has to get a lot better against the run. But the Boilers have a bona fide star in end Ryan Kerrigan, some experience with Gerald Gooden and Kawann Short, and they should benefit from coach Gary Emanuel's return to West Lafayette. Purdue is thin at defensive tackle after Mike Neal's departure to the NFL, but Kerrigan leads what should be a formidable pass rush after finishing third nationally in sacks in 2009.

5. Wisconsin: Here's a case where I feel great about one line position and nervous about another. Emerging star J.J. Watt leads a talented group of defensive ends -- ends, not tackles!-- that also features Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert. The situation at tackle is a bit shakier because Wisconsin lost both starters from 2009, but Patrick Butrym boasts experience, and hopes are high for Jordan Kohout.

Up next: Linebackers

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