MADISON, Wis. - The Badgers will start their fall practices on Aug. 4, which means it's time to take a look at the storylines that will dominate the headlines for the next month and a half.
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Progress or regress?
When you lose three starters and a fourth major contributor from a defensive line, the natural assumption is that the next year's unit will regress statistically. People value experience for a reason. But the defensive line might be a different story for the Badgers, or at least it has the potential to be.
For one thing, the Badgers are going with a different look on the defensive line, and not just because of personnel turnover. Dave Aranda is trying to get faster players on the field, starting up front on the defensive line. Konrad Zagzebski, Warren Herring and Chikwe Obasih all seem to have the inside track on starting jobs, and will tip the scales at about 50 collective pounds lighter than last year's unit.
That could be a problem if the Badgers want to stop the run the way they did in 2013, but I see it as a measured trade off. Aranda said in the offseason that his defense didn't get to the passer as much as he wanted them to last year, so putting smaller but quicker players on the field seems to be aimed at causing more trouble for opposing offenses.
So if the run defense suffers and the pass rush improves, has the defensive line progressed or regressed? It depends on the margin. Either way we'll see more of what a Dave Aranda-led defense will really look like, now that he has more of his players in the two-deep.
How much will Jeremy Patterson play?
The Badgers seem pretty convinced that Patterson will be able to see the field right away at nose tackle as a true freshman. With Bryce Gilbert out of the program, he almost has to be ready right away. Arthur Goldberg will start out above Patterson on the depth chart, but The Badgers would be well-served to give the freshman plenty of opportunity to see the field.
After all the Badgers don't have a lot of margin for error after Warren Herring graduates. They missed out on signing Sun Prairie native Craig Evans last February, which means that Goldberg and Patterson will have to step up and anchor the line in 2015. Getting both players on the field this year could save them some growing pains in 2015, so I expect Aranda and defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a to rotate the young guys in when they can.
It helps that Herring is a versatile player, too. The Badgers tinkered with deploying him as a defensive end to try and take advantage of his pass rushing skills, so if they feel comfortable putting Goldberg or Patterson on an island it could give their pass rush a situational boost.
John Veldhuis covers Wisconsin football, basketball and recruiting for BadgerBlitz.com on the Rivals.com network. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnVeldhuis.