Badgers D-line aims for healthy, memorable 2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

One of Bret Bielema's most treasured football mementos is a photo snapped on the field at Ohio Stadium in the wake of a 1991 game.

Flanked by his Iowa defensive linemates, Mike Wells and Ron Geater, a smiling Bielema sat on a bench, celebrating an emotional Hawkeyes win as three downtrodden Ohio State fans walked behind them. The day before, a graduate student killed five people and wounded another on Iowa's campus before turning his gun on himself.

"We had taken the decals off our helmets and played with only black helmets," Bielema said. "It was something that was very unique in my playing career. And that's a special picture just because it was my d-line group."

Bielema hasn't shown the photo to Wisconsin's defensive linemen but admits it might be a good idea to do so.

The Badgers coach hopes that the team's defensive linemen will forge their own memories by the end of the season.
"Not only do they have respect for what each other goes through on the field," Bielema said, "but a lot of times those guys have huge weight gains once they get here, so they're going through that together. Every team, every university I've been to, the d-line is a special group."

Despite a subpar performance in 2007, Wisconsin's front four could be one of the team's strengths this fall.

The Badgers lost only one starter (Nick Hayden) and return three seniors -- standout end Matt Shaughnessy and tackles Jason Chapman and Mike Newkirk -- who have started in multiple seasons. Sophomore end Kirk DeCremer led the team in sacks last season (5.5), and he's penciled in as a backup. Shaughnessy has earned All-Big Ten honors in each of his first three seasons, racking up 33.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks.

"Just having each other's back is a big issue," said Chapman, who has 31 career starts. "You go out there and do certain things individually, focusing on your key, but at the same time, you have to be able to fend for your (teammate) next to you."

Unfortunately for the Badgers' linemen, the field isn't the only place where they've had time to jell.

Injuries swept through the entire team but hit the line especially hard. Chapman tore his ACL against Ohio State last season, while DeCremer (back), Shaughnessy (leg), Newkirk (shoulder) and junior-college transfer Dan Moore (knee) missed part or all of spring ball. DeCremer and Newkirk have been somewhat limited in preseason practice, but all the linemen are expected to be ready for the opener Aug. 30 against Akron.

"We've bonded and we've also gotten a lot smarter, too, just knowing basically the ins and outs of the defense because we've had that time to sit back and watch everything," DeCremer said. "That's really helped."