Assessing the inside linebackers in the wake of Jack Cichy’s season-ending injury

MADISON — Jack Cichy is done for the year after tearing the ACL in his right knee Tuesday night at practice. And for the second time in 10 months, Wisconsin players and coaches are having to field questions about where they go from here now that they don’t have their fiery and talented inside linebacker. The choices, like they were last October when Cichy tore his left pectoral muscle and missed the second half of the season, are far better than most teams in the country could hope for in a similar situation.

Here’s our look at who has a chance to roll with the first-team defense next to to three-year starter T.J. Edwards and attempt to fill the massive void left by Cichy

Junior Ryan Connelly (2016: 59 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, 1 interception)

Connelly started the final seven games of last season after Cichy went down and filled in admirably. A former walk-on just like Cichy, Connelly, according to PFF College Football, had the No. 1 run stop percentage among all returning inside linebackers in the country. He would likely be a heavy favorite to be Cichy’s replacement once again, but he’s currently dealing with a leg injury of his own that has kept him out of practice for the last week. Coach Paul Chryst said the injury isn’t season-ending, but he also gave no indication when the Minnesota native would be able to return.

Sophomore Chris Orr (2016: Torn ACL on first snap. 2015: 46 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, .5 sack)

Orr started five games as a true freshman in 2015 before tearing his left ACL on the first snap of 2016. He’s now fully recovered and was running with the first-team defense on Thursday morning. Orr is not the biggest guy, but being relentless and instinctive are two of his better traits. Depending on how long Connelly remains out, Orr very well could grab ahold of the job and not let go.

Sophomore Griffin Grady (2016: 12 games, 4 tackles)

One of just six true freshmen to see the field for Wisconsin in 2016, Grady was a fixture on special teams and looked solid in mop-up time at inside linebacker. Unfortunately for him and the Badgers, the Dublin, Ohio., product has missed most of fall camp with an illness, preventing him from getting vital reps.

Junior Arrington Farrar (2016: 7 tackles, 1 forced fumble)

A safety his first two years on campus, Farrar moved to inside linebacker during spring practice for Wisconsin. The change allowed him to bulk up as opposed to constantly worrying about keeping his weight down to play in the secondary. One of Wisconsin’s key guys on special teams, Farrar admitted in the spring that redshirting in 2017 was a possibility with all the talent in front of him. That might not be the case now that Cichy’s season is over.

Redshirt freshman Mike Maskalunas (2016: redshirt)

From Long Grove, Ill., Maskalunas has the chance to be the next walk-on to hit it big at linebacker, joining the likes of Joe Schobert, Marcus Trotter, Ethan Armstrong, Cichy and Connelly. Asked what young guy stood out to him during the summer, tight end Troy Fumagalli singled out Maskalunas.

“He’s a hard worker, puts his head down, does the right things,” Fumagalli said on ‘The Camp.’ “He’s got a bunch of talent in front of him. You might not see him right away. People might speculate [about his future]. But if he keeps on the same path of working hard and follows those guys in front of him, I think he’s going to be a really good player one day.”

If given an opportunity, one Wisconsin player would kneel for the national anthem

MADISON | At no point this season is it expected the Wisconsin football team will be on the field for the national anthem. They are still in the locker room during home games at Camp Randall Stadium, and on the road, even if the other team comes out for it, the Badgers pre-game routine is to take the field afterwards.

But if given a chance, at least one player on Wisconsin’s roster would not be standing.

Sophomore safety Arrington Farrar said that he would follow the lead of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and kneel during the anthem as a way of showing his displeasure for — and bring awareness to — the way African Americans and people of color are treated in the United States.

“I feel like I’d have to do it. I’d feel terrible if I did stand,” Farrar said after practice on Wednesday.

“People are dying, man. You can’t sit there and be like, ‘This is just America.’ You can’t be OK with that. You can’t be like, ‘It’s not going to change.’ I think it’s ridiculous.

“Perfection isn’t possible, but you can chase it. That’s the only way you can get better. Just chasing perfection. Even though you know you won’t get there, you still have to chase perfection.”

Farrar made clear that any decision to kneel would not be intended as disrespect for those in the armed forces and others that lost their lives for the freedom Americans enjoy.

“I appreciate everything they do,” he said. “9/11, I think is a big deal. And if I were in the NFL, I wouldn’t have kneeled on 9/11. But any other day, you’ve got to recognize America isn’t perfect. But perfection, it’s something you’ve got to strive for.”

Farrar, who is from Atlanta and went to a prep school where the African-American population makes up about 30% of the student body, said he hasn’t been personally affected by the violence seen in Minnesota, Louisiana and Milwaukee over the summer, and again in Oklahoma and Charlotte this week.

“For me personally, none of these things are happening to me or my relatives or anything like that,” he said. “But just because it’s not my reality, doesn’t mean it’s not other people’s reality. I can’t ignore their reality just because of my personal experiences. I can’t sit there and be quiet while this happens.”

Though he didn’t have a specific number, Farrar said in the event that Wisconsin is on the field for the anthem at some point this year, he didn’t think he’d be the only player to take a knee. But added that what his teammates do or don’t do wouldn’t impact his decision.

“You can’t let your legacy be, ‘I played football really well,’” he said. “You’ve got to use your platform. You’ve got to use your voice.”

Wisconsin is one of five schools in the Big Ten that never have their players on the field for the national anthem.

Wisconsin football preview: Defensive backs

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 secondary.

Defensive backs

The secondary, or more accurately the safety position, is the biggest question mark on the defense. Wisconsin is trying to replace Michael Caputo and Tanner McEvoy — one of the best safety combinations the program has ever had. And if spring was any indication, the process is far from over.

The biggest issue was the lack of bodies. Junior D’Cota Dixon, who learned under Caputo last season, was penciled in as his replacement. But then a hamstring injury sidelined him for the last nine practices of spring. Senior Leo Musso, who’s been battling for a starting spot since his redshirt freshman season, missed large portions of spring practice because of classes. That left sophomore Arrington Farrar and junior Joe Ferguson as the No. 1 safeties for long stretches, with redshirt junior Keelon Brookins and junior Lubern Figaro behind them.

Wisconsin isn’t panicking, and if healthy, likely would feel good about a combination of Dixon and Farrar, with Musso being the third guy in. And if not, a pair of incoming freshmen — Eric Burrell and Patrick Johnson — might also be an option to look at.

On the outside, senor Sojourn Shelton and junior Derrick Tindal seemed to always be getting their hands on the ball during the spring, and the former appears ready to ascend to the role of UW’s shutdown cornerback.

Junior Natrell Jamerson, who is replacing Darius Hillary as the Badgers slot cornerback, got beat a couple times on deep balls in the spring game. Overall, though, it was a solid spring for the third-year player.

Redshirt freshman Titus Booker has all the talent in the world, but he was still in the process of refining it during the spring, according to new secondary coach Jim Leonhard. Still, he showed significant growth over the 15 practices and is primed for playing time this year.

Depth chart projection
Cornerback: 1) Sojourn Shelton, Senior 2) Titus Booker, RS freshman
Safety: 1) Arrington Farrar, Sophomore 2) Joe Ferguson, RS junior
Safety: 1) D’Cota Dixon, Junior 2) Leo Musso, Senior
Cornerback: 1) Derrick Tindal, Junior 2) Natrell Jamerson, Junior

Monday: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers
Tuesday: Offensive line, tight ends
Wednesday: Defensive line
Thursday: Linebackers
Today: Defensive backs