THE BADGERS DON'Thave a safety with even one game of starting experience, but not to worry.Linebackers Jonathan Casillas and DeAndre Levy, Wisconsin's third and fourthleading tacklers last year, are taking a personal interest in the situation.This fall the two juniors will share a four-bedroom, off-campus house withsophomores Aubrey Pleasant and Shane Carter, who will be taking over at thestrong- and free-safety positions, respectively. Talking about defense will bea house rule. "It's going to be all football all the time in there,"says Casillas.
Besides being thebest linebacking duo west of Penn State, the 6' 2", 220-pound Casillas andthe 6' 3", 230-pound Levy are ideal tutors. Both played safety in highschool. Levy hits like a hammer, and Casillas, who has been timed at4.37¬†seconds in the 40, is the second-fastest player on the team. "Heplays so well in space," second-year Badgers coach Bret Bielema says ofCasillas. "There were times last year when we used him basically as acorner."
As for thesafeties, what Carter and Pleasant--who both redshirted last season withshoulder injuries--lack in experience, they make up for in athleticism. The 6'2", 206-pound Carter, the younger brother of former All-Pro wide receiverCris Carter, earned praise from Bielema in the spring for his playmakingability. "The safety position will be the most critical part of the defensethis year," says Bielema. "A leader has to emerge there."
The safetiesshould have suitable time to get acclimated because, in addition to Casillasand Levy, Wisconsin possesses a stellar defensive line and perhaps thecountry's top pair of lockdown cornerbacks. Up front, three starters and sixplayers with significant experience are back. Holding down the corners arejuniors Jack Ikegwuonu and Allen Langford. Ikegwuonu had only two interceptionslast season because teams basically stopped throwing to his side of the field,but he still earned All-Big Ten honors.
Solid defense willmake things easier for whoever wins the starting quarterback job. The optionsare fifth-year senior Tyler Donovan and junior Allan Evridge, a Kansas Statetransfer. The 6' 1", 185-pound Donovan has a significant edge inexperience. He started the final two games of the regular season last year,throwing for more than 500 yards and four touchdowns in wins over Iowa andBuffalo. The 6' 2", 226-pound Evridge has a big league arm, but hestruggled with consistency during spring practice. "It's still up in theair," says Bielema.
But Bielema canrest a little easier knowing he has a defense that makes the Badgers a threatto win their first Big Ten title since 1999.
CONFERENCE: Big Ten
COACH: Bret Bielema
2006 RECORD: 12-1(7-1¬†in Big¬†Ten)
FINAL AP RANK: 7
Offense 9, Defense 7
TE Travis Beckum (Jr.)
Leader of deep receiver corps had 61 catches in '06
RB P.J. Hill (Soph.)
Led Big Ten in rushing, with 1,569 yards, 15 TDs
K Taylor Mehlhaff (Sr.)
Made 2 of 3 from beyond 50 yards, 10 of 11 inside40
Sept. 1 WASHINGTON STATE
8 at UNLV
15 THE CITADEL
29 MICHIGAN STATE
Oct 6 at Illinois
13 at Penn State
20 NORTHERN ILLINOIS
Nov 3 at Ohio State
17 at Minnesota
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"The safety position will be the most critical partof the defense," says Bielema.
David Stluka/Icon SMI
Doug Benc/Getty Images
Casillas makes plays from sideline to sideline.