Things, they are a changing for the Wisconsin Badgers defense in 2016, but if there is one position group that may be in the best spot to benefit from change, it may be the linebackers.
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Yes, even with the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year and All-American Joe Schobert gone. How so? Letâ€™s take a look at what this position looks like heading in to UWâ€™s spring football camp.
Returning Starter(s):Â Vince Biegel, Sr.; Chris Orr, So.; T.J. Edwards, So.
Departing Players:Â Joe Schobert (79 tackles, 19.5 tflâ€™s, 9.5 sacks, 1 INT); Jesse Hayes (8 tackles, 1 pass break up)
Coming in to Program:Â Noah Burks, OLB; Griffin Grady, ILB; Dallas Jeanty, ILB
Biggest Storyline:Â Is there depth at outside linebacker?
The Badgers linebacking group is perhaps the least questionable group on the 2016 Wisconsin Badgers. Two returning starters inside (T.J. Edwards and Chris Orr) and an All-Big Ten linebacker (Vince Biegel) at one outside spot and a dependable backup stepping up opposite in Jack Cichy certainly help in that regard.
However, if there is a question that must be answered in this group during spring practice it is finding out if there is any depth at outside linebacker. Cichy was key to showing there was depth last season, but the reality is Biegel and Cichy wonâ€™t be around following this season. That means UW must find out if it has players capable of playing at or near the same level as the starters.
T.J. Watt could be one of those answers, as he showed up big time late last season, but the increased production also means an increase in expectations. Can he handle that or will he wilt given a long injury history? There are certainly questions for him to answer.
What about a fourth option at outside linebacker? The answer may likely lie in the play of two untested players in Garrett Dooley and redshirt freshman Zack Baun. Dooley finished with just three tackles last season in a limited role. It will likely be his last spring to step up and take a bigger role on this team, but donâ€™t expect Baun to go down without a fight for playing time in this offseason too.
This spring camp will likely be all about finding new names to get used to seeing as backups on the field on Saturdayâ€™s this fall, and its a nice problem to have.
Who Starts Against LSU:Â Jack Cichy, OLB; T.J. Edwards, ILB; Chris Orr, ILB; Vince Biegel, OLB
Barring something freaky happening in spring or fall camp, there is no way this isnâ€™t the group that will take the field against LSU at Lambeau Field over Labor Day weekend. Wisconsin has perhaps its best looking group of linebackers entering a season since the switch to the 3-4 defense four years ago.
Projected Depth Chart:
OLB: Jack Cichy, Zack Baun
ILB: T.J. Edwards, Rya Connelley
ILB: Chris Orr, Nick Thomas
OLB: Vince Biegel, T.J. Watt
The starters are known quantities, but Wisconsin is about to find out what it has behind them in a big way this offseason. Last year, Wisconsin thought very highly of Ryan Connelley and it resulted in him seeing the field in 12 games as a backup. He made 15 tackles and 1.0 tackles for loss, donâ€™t be surprised to see him on the field in an even bigger role this time around. Same goes for Baun, who was stashed away with a redshirt last year, but may be the most athletically gifted linebacker the Badgers have. That much shown through in fall camp before he was redshirted.
Overall, this group is deep, varied on skill and a whole lot of fun to watch play. Donâ€™t be surprised to see this group interchange its parts more and more often as new DC Justin Wilcox gets used to his players.