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Garrett Rand-nearing return

University of Wisconsin defensive lineman Garrett Rand pressures Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee during a game in 2017.

Garrett Rand has spent nearly an entire year as a spectator — unable to do anything more for the University of Wisconsin than grind through a slow rehab process for the Achilles tendon he tore last summer.

As Rand watched another practice in street clothes Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, outside linebacker Zack Baun made a statement Rand couldn't disagree with.

"I bet you don't even remember what it's like to play," Baun recalls telling Rand.

Baun knows the feeling. He found himself in the same situation last year after he missed the entire 2017 season with a foot injury.

While Baun now enters his senior season as the top player at his position, the time is nearing for Rand to pull the pads on and begin establishing himself as a game-changer at defensive end.

Rand, a junior, said he may participate in individual drills later this spring and expects to be fully back for summer conditioning and fall camp.

He could be just what UW's defensive line needs after a trying season for the group in 2018.

"As a D-line unit, we can't wait to have Garrett back," junior defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk said. "It was kind of tough when he got hurt, but I think having him there, having a presence of someone who can really do some damage at end out there, it's going to be good for us."

Loudermilk and Rand entered last offseason as projected starters at defensive end. Loudermilk also missed significant time due to injuries, playing in nine of 13 games and starting just six.

The pair's absence in Week 1 left UW with no choice but two start two redshirt freshmen at defensive end to begin the season — Matt Henningsen, a walk-on, and Kayden Lyles, who switched from offensive line just a couple months earlier.

By year's end, Henningsen turned himself into a solid player and junior David Pfaff became a more consistent contributor. The path to that point, however, wasn't always a smooth one.

If Loudermilk and Rand enter the season healthy this time around, it could turn the position into a potential strength for the Badgers.

"I think that (Rand and I) can do a lot of damage, but that's just something we'll have to wait and see when the season comes around," Loudermilk said. "We want to be the most dominant guys out there."

The 6-foot-2, 279-pound Rand served as UW's No. 2 nose tackle out of necessity during his first two years on campus. He expressed excitement during spring practice prior to last season about switching to end.

If his recovery stays on track, he'll finally have a chance this fall to show what he's capable of at his most natural position.

His return — coupled with the added experience for young guys like Henningsen and sophomore nose tackle Bryson Williams — could put the Badgers' defensive line in a much better position to succeed.

"Just about there. It's been a really long process," Rand said. "Those (young) guys definitely did a lot of learning last year. Throughout the spring I've seen everyone grow stronger and more confident, so hopefully this D-line will be definitely better than last year's."

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