September 5, 2009

Five players to watch against NIU

MADISON, Wis. - Following a 7-6 season in 2008, it seems like the off-season leading into 2009 took twice as long. Well, fortunately for Badger fans, that wait is no more. The Wisconsin Badgers will kickoff the season when they host Northern Illinois at six o'clock (cst) at Camp Randall Stadium.

Before hand, BadgerBlitz.com has compiled a list of five important players to watch during the season opener.

1.) Scott Tolzien:

It's the junior's first starts since his senior year of high school. His confidence and steady play led him to the top of the depth chart through fall camp and now he will get his chance to showcase what he is able to do on the big stage.

With Curt Phillips nipping on his heels, it will be interesting to see how he responds to the pressure. Tolzien relies on his calm demeanor and will need to be especially calm in his first collegiate start. If he is, he has the IQ and knowledge of the playbook to make some plays with his arm.

Otherwise, we may see Phillips get more playing time.

2.) Aaron Henry:

The road to recovery has been a trying time of the Badgers best cornerback. But after going through a healthy spring ball and a healthy fall camp, Henry seems like he is back to the level of play he had as a freshman.

What may be more important than his play is his ability to lead the defense. He will play an integral part in turning around a defense that has to rebound from a very shaky season in 2009.

3.) J.J. Watt:

In 2008, the defensive line lacked a powerful pass rusher. They had speed and quickness on the outside with O'Brien Schofield and Matt Shaughnessy, but the middle was lacking a bit of a powerful force.

This season, with Watt playing both the end and tackle position, he offers versatility to a defensive line group that has much greater depth than that of a year ago. That should really help late in games when the defense needs to get a critical stop.

4.) Devin Smith:

Throughout fall camp, there was a bit of a competition for the No. 2 corner spot opposite Henry. Smith emerged as the winner through his consistency on every single down. His chief opponent, Niles Brinkley, led the team in interceptions a season ago. But for every big play he made, he gave up one to the other team.

So, it will be the young sophomore Smith getting the call on every single down. The coaches rave about the way he handles every play. From watching him in camp, he will give himself chances to make some big plays to sway momentum.

5.) Mike Taylor:

For a player that missed a decent chunk of camp with a hamstring issue, it was remarkable how fast he shot up the depth chart. His play in practice even forced the coaching staff to move Blake Sorensen to the middle to create space for the redshirt freshman on the strong side.

If Taylor can stay healthy, he can be an important member of the defense. He's fast and reads his keys well. Injury, though, is always a major concern with Taylor.

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