Wisconsin is well known for its beers, cheeses and, now, its linebackers.
While Penn State was widely known as “Linebacker U” in the early 2000s due to their plethora of talented linebackers—Sean Lee, Lavar Arrington, Navorro Bowman and Paul Posluszny, to name a few—the recent play of Wisconsin’s linebackers has rivaled that of the Nittany Lions.
The Badgers now feature a young linebacker corps that finds its way into the backfield multiple times a game. After three games, five Badger linebackers as a group have racked up 11 of the team’s 14 tackles for loss, five coming by way of a sack.
Like most units, the linebackers have developed a “next man up” mentality. On the first defensive play of the season against LSU, Chris Orr suffered a season-ending injury. The sophomore was expected to play a large part in the defense in 2016, as he tallied 46 tackles in 2015 as a freshman.
With a large hole to fill, the Badgers turned to Ryan Connelly, a sophomore, who had only recorded 15 tackles as a freshman. Connelly was up to task against the Tigers, recording seven tackles en route to the Badgers’ upset win. Connelly registered a tackle against Akron and then none against Georgia State.
Not only were the Badgers without Orr, but T.J. Edwards was also held out of the LSU game and then was limited against Akron. In his absence, Leon Jacobs, who had moved to fullback from linebacker, returned to his old position and registered two tackles against the Zips, one for a sack.
Since being limited in the Akron game, Edwards was full-go against Georgia State, collecting a team-high 11 tackles.
As a freshman, Edwards was the leading tackler for Wisconsin’s top-ranked scoring defense in 2015, when he finished with 84 tackles.
Pairing up with Edwards inside is Jack Cichy, who rose to fame in 2015 with his three sacks on three consecutive plays against USC in the Holiday Bowl, earning the Defensive Player of the Game award. As a sophomore, Cichy recorded 60 tackles. He is currently the Badgers’ leading tackler with 17.
Holding down the outside for the Badgers are Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt. In 2015, Biegel and former Badger Joe Schobert lived in the offensive backfield together. The two were Nos. 1 and 2 on the team in tackles for loss, Schobert leading the way with 20 (9.5 sacks) and Biegel second with 9.5 (4.5 sacks).
So far in 2016, it’s more of the same for Biegel and his counterpart, Watt. Each have two tackles for loss, with both of Watt’s sacks and Biegel having one.
Playing behind the two upperclassmen is freshman Zack Baun, a converted quarterback who now applies pressure instead of avoiding it. He has received played limited time through three games, but already has two tackles for loss, one in each of the last two games.
Provided none of the Badgers declare early for the NFL, they will return all but one linebacker (the only who will be graduating at the end of the season is Biegel). Given their youth at the position, they should soon take over as the rightful Linebacker U.