The Wisconsin Badgers survived a quick transition to the 3-4 look in 2013, managed to survive a massive turnover in front of them in 2014 and the transition to Dave Aranda players is nearly complete heading in to 2014.
However, the Badgers wonâ€™t have stalwarts like Marcus Trotter or Derek Landisch available anymore and that makes for a really young and interesting looking group heading in to 2015.
With this group consisting mainly of guys recruited to play in the 3-4 defense of Dave Aranda, the 2015 spring camp could be a great glimpse of just what is in store for the future of this team and this defense in the years to come.
Returning Starter(s): Joe Schobert (OLB); Vince Biegel (OLB)
Departing Players: Marcus Trotter (ILB); Derek Landisch (ILB); Michael Trotter (ILB)
Coming in to Program:Â Nick Thomas; Chris Orr
Biggest Storyline: Who will be in the middle of this group
The Badgers defense had a lot of parts to replace in 2014, including six of seven starters on the defensive line and linebacking crew. However, the Badgers had one ace up their sleeves â€” experience. Inside linebacker Marcus Trotter waited behind All-Big Ten talent Chris Borland about as patiently as possible, and when he got his chance he took the bull by the horns and made people forget he was a first-year starter.
Much of the same is going to be true this season, but it will be even more difficult as the Badgers donâ€™t return a starter at either inside linebacker position and no one back on the team has ever made a start. That means the middle of the Badgers defense will undergo a severe youth movement in 2015.
As for spring ball, that means the play of those in the group that are available will have ample opportunity to showcase themselves for Aranda and new head coach Paul Chryst.
Nick Thomas enrolled early at UW and heâ€™ll see his first action in the Cardinal and White because of it. Thatâ€™s a great thing because only three inside linebacker return to the Badgers roster and none of them have seen really extensive playing time on the inside.
One of the players to watch most is now sophomore Dâ€™Cota Dixon (who will likely get a year back as a medical redshirt, only played in two games last season). In those two games, Dixon showcased an impressive motor and nose for the football. He had three tackles on the season, but was just getting going before a shoulder injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.
That means this will be his most extensive football action since he got to UW and heâ€™ll be counted on to step up amongst an inexperienced group.
Also expected to step up this spring is junior Leon Jacobs, who moved inside last season after beginning his career as an outside linebacker. Jacobs finished last season with 28 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 2 tackles for loss, so heâ€™s got the on-field production to be the leader in the clubhouse for at least one of the two starting spots.
Still, spring will be interesting with Thomas in the mix. His high school film showcases a no-nonsense approach to the game and an extremely high motor to help him overcome some of the physical limitations.
Thereâ€™s no doubt that the battle inside amongst the four players in the mix during spring ball will be one of the biggest storylines for the Badgers period.
Who Starts Against Alabama: OLB Joe Schobert; ILB Dâ€™Cota Dixon; ILB Leon Jacobs; OLB Vince Biegel
As much as it will be tempting to think and predict that one of the two incoming inside linebackers makes the opening day starting roster, letâ€™s also remember that Leon Jacobs has a massive experience and physical advantage on the rest of the crowd and Dixon showed a lot of why many thought he was the most underrated recruit in the Badgersâ€™ 2014 class.
Expect those two to at least be the opening day starters in the middle of the field. As for the outside positions, those are on lock thanks to great years from both Schobert and Biegel. The lone question on the outside is just how unleashed those two will be to rush off the edge given the lack of experience between them and in front of them.