Five players on the defensive side of the ball who improved the most this spring and established themselves as candidates for meaningful snaps this season, or in the future.
1. James Adeyanju
Redshirt freshman Defensive End James Adeyanju gave himself a shot to get meaningful snaps this season, but if not, he'll be a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten in the future. Adeyanju displayed great quickness of the ball and a relentless pass rush all spring. Look for Adeyanju to be an important piece for the Badgers in the next few seasons.
2. Darius Hillary
Redshirt Freshman Cornerback Darius Hillary made a case for playing time as well this spring. Hillary showed excellent ball skills, intercepting plenty of passes throughout spring practices. Next year will likely be Hillary's time to shine, but if an injury should occur, the Badgers will feel pretty good about the freshman stepping in.
3. Derek Watt
Redshirt freshman Linebacker Derek Watt also had an excellent spring. Baring injuries, Watt will be limited to a back up role this season, but showed the Badger coaching staff that Derek Landisch and Jake Keefer aren't the only young, talented linebackers on the Badgers' roster. Watt filled the gaps nicely and is a true play maker at the position.
4. Ethan Hemer
Although he's already a starter, junior Defensive Tackle Ethan Hemer just exploded this summer. Hemer was constantly getting to the quarterback and disrupting the offense by getting into the backfield. Hemer wasn't the most important part of Wisconsin's defense last season, but he could be exactly that in 2012-2013.
5. A.J. FentonConor O'Neill was thought of as the front runner to replace Kevin Claxton at outside linebacker next season, but Junior Linebacker A.J. Fenton came out of spring practices as the starter heading into the fall. Fenton used tremendous athleticism and speed to take control of the race. For a Wisconsin squad that struggled containing the edge last season, Fenton could be quite the upgrade at outside linebacker.
Other player ofs note: Terrance Floyd, Michael Caputo, Conor O'Neill, and Warren Herring.