As we head into July and voluntary workouts continue for Wisconsin, AllBadgers.com looks at a few potential key contributors on the football roster.
During these evaluations, we will hypothesize just exactly what a stellar, standard and subpar season could be for each individual player. On Sunday as we close down the Fourth of July weekend, let's look at a second-year defensive lineman who adjusted quickly to the college game in 2019.
Keeanu Benton did not enroll early at Wisconsin, but he still worked his way into the two-deep at nose tackle to begin last season. He even played more of a role after Bryson Williams missed eight games due to injury.
In all, Benton saw action in 13 games (six starts) and recorded 12 tackles, four for loss, along with two sacks. Though those are not eye-popping, one must remember that Wisconsin's defensive line normally does not tally the type of statistics the linebackers behind them acquire within the 3-4 scheme. Nonetheless, their responsibilities are vital to the success of the team.
Benton, the Janesville (WI) Craig product and two-time WIAA Division 1 wrestling state runner-up, surprised and impressed last year. What could be in store next season?
In this scenario, there is no mention of a sophomore slump whatsoever for Benton, and he continues a forward trajectory into becoming one of the standout linemen on the defense next season.
His prep wrestling background and strength, along with another year of seasoning under the mentorship of assistant coach Inoke Breckterfield, translates further in production at the nose tackle spot. Not only does he help the line continue to clog up gaps for its linebackers to make plays, but the sophomore finds his way into opponents' backfields more in noticeable fashion to help replace production from the departures of Chris Orr and Zack Baun.
During this theorized timeline, Benton continues to hone his craft on the line and continues being a consistent contributor alongside the upperclassmen surrounding him in Williams but also ends Garrett Rand, Isaiahh Loudermilk and Matt Henningsen. His numbers also increase from a year ago.
Williams and Benton form a solid duo at the nose tackle spot and it allows the unit to be one of the strengths on an experienced defense.
I do not foresee this taking place for Benton, especially with those veteran linemen surrounding him and the potential he has flashed. However in keeping with the series, this imaginary projection could be looked at as he receives less reps than last year while he still works to master the nose tackle spot. That and opposing offenses hone in on him more after catching his film.
The defense as a whole still works to find answers in pressuring opposing quarterbacks, though its line and secondary are far more experienced than the 2018 unit.
Again as a positive thinker, I am high on Benton's potential. What he did in just one season, and still being relatively green at the position, was impressive. The nose tackle spot behind Williams was a question mark in 2019, but he made it look like he was not a true freshman still adjusting to his first semester of college football.
If he continues to develop further, AllBadgers.com believes he has all-conference ability at the very least. He can clog up opposing offensive line's holes, but he could be someone that also makes his presence known in the backfield.