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Wisconsin football 2015 preview: Way-too-early look at linebackers

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Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert will shore up half of the linebacking corp, but who will step up for the inside linebackers in arguably the biggest position concern of the team in 2015?

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

We're past the end of the Wisconsin Badgers' 2014 season and their 34-31 upset victory against the Auburn Tigers in the 2015 Outback Bowl. As the Gary Andersen era officially closed on New Year's Day, B5Q now looks ahead to the program that head coach Paul Chryst will lead in 2015.

"The Chevy Bad Boys", the coined nickname for the linebacking corp for the Badgers, were a huge part of Wisconsin's success on defense. Led by senior inside linebackers Derek Landisch and Marcus Trotter, along with talented outside linebackers Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert, the starting quartet in Dave Aranda's 3-4 defense combined for 22 tackles and five of Wisconsin's eight tackles for loss (TFLs) against Auburn in the Outback Bowl alone. Leading up to the match-up against the Tigers, the four linebackers stood second through fifth on the team in tackles for the season.

Please note, this preview still assumes the Badgers will run a 3-4 base defense -- which still seems apparent with the retention of defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, but if based on Chryst's history of using a 4-3 in his time at Pitt, we'll see which alignment they'll go with.

More early previews: QB RB WR TE OL DL DB

2014 Leaders

Inside linebackers: Marcus Trotter (93 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks), Derek Landisch (84 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 9 sacks)

Outside linebackers:  Vince Biegel (56 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks), Joe Schobert (69 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks)

Returning

Inside linebackers: Leon Jacobs (JR), D'Cota Dixon (SO), Justin Schweitzer (assuming RS FR), Jack Cichy (RS SO)

Outside linebackers: Biegel (RS JR), Schobert (SR), Jesse Hayes (RS SR), T.J. Edwards (RS FR), Ryan Connelly (assuming RS FR),

Unassigned linebackers: Zander Neuville (RS FR)

Departed

Inside linebackers: Landisch, Marcus and Michael Trotter, Ben Ruechel

Outside linebackers: Josh Harrison, Sherard Cadogan

Trotter twins_Grey Satterfield

Credit: Grey Satterfield

Additions

Inside linebackers: Nick Thomas (IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla. -- early enrollee), Chris Orr (DeSoto, DeSoto, Tex.), Alec Ingold (Bay Port, Green Bay, Wis.)

Outside linebackers:  Zach Baun (Brown Deer, Milwaukee, Wis.), Ty DeForest (Marshall, Marshall Wis. -- early enrollee), Arrington Farrar (Woodward Academy, Atlanta, Ga.)

X-Factors: D'Cota Dixon, incoming freshmen at inside linebacker

The inside linebacker position is heavily strained after the losses of Landisch and Marcus Trotter, and will be the biggest concern for the team going forward. 187 tackles and nearly 30 tackles for loss of production will not be there in 2015. Their main back-up, fellow Trotter twin, Michael, also has exhausted his eligbility.

So who's left? Leon Jacobs, who filled in nicely for the injured Marcus Trotter against Illinois with 12 tackles, two TFLs and 1.5 sacks. However, he primarily played on special teams his first two seasons.

The 5'10, 206-pound Dixon showcased his abilities in summer camp and played in three games before being shut down for the season with a shoulder injury. He's still undersized for a linebacker in terms of weight, but he has the experience along with Cichy.

That does open up the door for incoming freshmen Thomas and Orr. Thomas, a three-star recruit who played for former Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., gets the head start on learning Aranda's defense with his early enrollment. Can the 6'2, 230-pound true freshman, who reaffirmed his commitment after news of Aranda staying at Wisconsin surfaced, take advantage of the extra time in a collegiate weight room and on the field?

Orr will have the opportunity to earn some playing time as well. A three-star recruit out of Texas powerhouse DeSoto, Orr has football in his blood. His three older brothers all are involved with the game still, as Nick plays for TCU, Terrance is a wide receivers coach for their high school alma mater, DeSoto, and Zach plays for the Baltimore Ravens.

Vince Biegel_Joe Schobert

Credit: Jake Kocorowski

Early prediction for starters: Biegel and Schobert at outside linebacker, Jacobs and Dixon at inside linebackers

Outside linebackers: Biegel and Schobert. The two returning starters solidify this defense returning seven starters in its third year under Aranda. The two combined for 30 tackles for loss this past season, none more important than Schobert's three consecutive hits behind the line of scrimmage in overtime against Auburn.

Inside linebackers: Jacobs and Dixon. As of this moment, those are the best two to put your money on, at least for now, based on experience. As mentioned earlier, Jacobs is the shoe-in taking over for Trotter's "mac" inside linebacker like he did against Illinois in 2014, and Dixon turned some heads in the early part of the season before redshirting after shoulder surgery. Dixon's size is not ideal, but then again (*cough cough Chris Borland cough cough*), where have we heard that before?

Do not discount true freshmen getting significant playing time, as you've seen with cornerback Sojourn Shelton and safety Lubern Figaro start in their first collegiate games. It will be up to Aranda's recruits to learn the scheme and calls early on to make an impact.

It's highly doubtful that this will happen, and there's been absolutely no indications that this is an option -- but Schobert did transition to inside linebacker last spring before heading back to the outside. Could he be used again? The Badgers have depth at outside linebacker with a would-be senior in Hayes, and along with a redshirt freshman in T.J. Edwards -- who made some plays in summer camp before redshirting -- it's not outside the realm of possibility. It all depends upon the progression of the inside linebackers.