MADISON | The Wisconsin football team will open fall camp on Aug. 8, so over the next few days we’ll be going position-by-position to preview head coach Paul Chryst’s second team in Madison.
Today we take a look at the linebackers.
It’s rare when you can lose an All-American like Joe Schobert and not be worried about a potential drop-off in play. But that’s exactly the feeling around the Wisconsin football program as their group of linebackers enters the post-Schobert era. Instead of losing sleep over the departure of the reigning Big Ten Linebacker of the Year, there are many that feel the unit can be stronger this season than it was a year ago.
It starts with outside linebacker Vince Biegel. The boisterous and productive senior decided to return for his final season in Madison and does so with a major chip on his shoulder. After finishing with eight sacks and 14 tackles for loss last season, Biegel was named a consensus third-team All-Big Ten selection. He took it as a slight, so now, having moved into the spot occupied by Schobert last year, he’s aiming to prove he’s a better player than given credit for, and in turn, help his NFL stock. The Wisconsin native has also taken a major leadership role, something he’s attacked seriously both on and off the field.
The guy on the other side of Biegel – T.J. Watt — is why many aren’t expecting a big dip in play among the linebackers. Few have generated as much excitement before becoming a starter than Watt. Injuries kept the junior off the field his first few seasons, but in the first year since moving from tight end to outside linebacker, Watt showed glimpses of play-making ability, including having a role in three of the five turnovers the Badgers forced in their game against Minnesota last November. He continued to show those glimpses in the spring and could be poised for a breakout season.
Junior Garrett Dooley and redshirt freshman Zack Baun should fill-in behind those two.
Wisconsin is also loaded with experience and talent at inside linebacker. The biggest question there is how long T.J. Edwards will be out. The redshirt sophomore led the team in tackles a year ago with 84 and was an All-Big Ten honorable mention pick, but he suffered a foot injury during the summer and is out indefinitely. It’s possible he could miss the first game of the year against LSU.
If that ends up happening, junior Jack Cichy and sophomore Chris Orr would man the inside spots. All that pair did last year was combine for 106 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks, with Cichy earning Defensive Player of the Game honors in the Holiday Bowl.
Depth chart projection:
Outside linebacker: 1) Vince Biegel, Senior 2) Garrett Dooley, RS Junior
Inside linebacker: 1) T.J. Edwards, RS Sophomore 2) Ryan Connelly, RS Sophomore
Inside linebacker: 1) Jack Cichy, RS Junior 2) Chris Orr, Sophomore
Outside linebacker: 1) T.J. Watt, RS Junior 2) Zack Baun, RS Freshman