Mike Taylor, Chris Borland, Derek Landisch — recent times have been very kind to the Wisconsin Badgers at the linebacker position. The problem is, Landisch was the last of that group at UW and he won’t be around in 2015.
Neither will be his partner at inside linebacker, Marcus Trotter. That could mean some worry heading in to a new season with two new starters. It could also mean there is a huge opportunity in front of the players in the program right now.
Let’s take stock of arguably the most important position group in defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s defense.
What We Know: Wisconsin is set at outside linebacker this season. Vince Biegel is an All-Big Ten caliber player and his counterpart, Joe Schobert is perhaps one of the most underrated linebackers in the Big Ten.
Biegel comes back after a break out year in which he had 16.5 tackles for loss — a number that was good for a tie for third in the Big Ten in 2014. He also added 56 total tackles, 7.5 sacks and four quarterback hurries.
Schobert was no slouch in attacking opposing offenses either, racking up 13.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks while also making 69 total tackles on the year. He’ll be in his third season as a starter on this defense, and that could make Schobert a dangerous weapon to use for the Badgers.
Jesse Hayes and Jack Cichy come in to camp as the likely backups and both have flashed some in their careers so far. It’s put up or shut up time for Hayes though, as he enters his senior season in 2015 and there could be a major challenge from incoming players like Alec Ingold and four-star recruit Arrington Farrar, who is a massive athlete that could be a future game changer for Aranda’s defense.
What We Need To Find Out: Is there depth at inside linebacker?
The Badgers certainly had enough concern about that very question, otherwise why bring in a graduate transfer like Kellen Jones from Clemson? Jones’ experience is going to be a massive help, but he is just one player and the reality is UW is likely to need at least two, if not three, more bodies to be ready to play on the inside.
Freshman Nick Thomas took to the game well in spring ball and could be a major player in the future, but is he 100 percent ready? Same can be said of incoming freshman Chris Orr out of DeSoto, Texas. He was a tackling machine and an good attacking option in high school, but is his body ready for the college game?
Wisconsin would be in great shape if the answers to both of their questions were in the affirmative. However, I’d look to Thomas to be closer to being ready given his head start in the playbook and the weight room.
If there are struggles from the youth by week three, this could be a really dangerous spot to watch throughout the season. Struggling players means less rotation and less differing of schemes from Aranda, and that’s where he makes this defense great. Watch the inside linebackers all camp, because it could be the make or break position for the Badgers 2015 season.
Player to Watch: Kellen Jones, ILB
Quick, name a single backup at inside linebacker with any experience on the collegiate stage? The answer to that question before the transfer of linebacker Kellen Jones was no one. Bringing a player like Jones shores up the position and gives UW a player with a lot of experience under his belt. Jones will come in and no doubt compete for a starting job this fall camp as well. The question with him is jus how healthy that knee is, having had two major knee injuries already in his career. Still, as long as he’s healthy (and it appears that way over the last year) Jones will not only push the younger guys, but be a nice help on the field as well. I’ll be looking to also see what kind of leadership he could provide in his one season at UW.
Our Projected Starters: OLB Joe Schobert; ILB Leon Jacobs, ILB T.J. Edwards; OLB Vince Biegel