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Garret Dooley to lead Wisconsin’s outside linebackers after T.J. Watt, Vince Biegel

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Spring appeared to answer some questions at this important position.

Patrick Barron

It may be the key question for the Wisconsin Badgers’ 2017 defense under first-year defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard: Can UW develop sufficient talent at outside linebacker to match the stellar production of recent years?

T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel are now in the NFL after their combined 15.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss last season, both products of position coach Tim Tibesar’s mentorship.

In their place and led by redshirt senior Garret Dooley, at least four outside linebackers appeared to stand out during UW’s spring practices.

Wisconsin’s 2017 Outside Linebackers

Outside Linebacker 2017 Year Height Weight Hometown
Outside Linebacker 2017 Year Height Weight Hometown
Garret Dooley R-SR 6'3 250 Rochester, Ill.
Leon Jacobs R-SR 6'2 238 Santa Clarita, Calif.
Zack Baun R-SO 6'3 222 Brown Deer, Wis.
Andrew Van Ginkel R-JR 6'4 230 Rock Valley, Ia.
Christian Bell R-FR 6'4 246 Birmingham, Ala.
Tyler Johnson R-SO 6'3 244 Menasha, Wis.
Max Praschak R-SO 6'2 203 Somerset, Wis.
Jake Whalen R-SO 6'1 242 Wausau, Wis.
Noah Burks R-FR 6'2 240 Carmel, Ind.
Keldric Preston R-FR 6'4 254 Tampa, Fla.
Hegeman Tiedt R-FR 6'4 235 Burlington, Wis.
Izayah Green-May FR 6'6 211 Bollingbrook, Ill.

Dooley filled in admirably for Biegel against Michigan and Ohio State last season, as well as rotating in for both starters when the position group was healthy. He recorded 40 tackles, 6.5 for loss, along with 3.5 sacks, and during the spring, head coach Paul Chryst noted the Illinois native was “playing spring ball like a senior.”

Barring injuries, Dooley should lock down a spot as a starter and could be next in the line of impactful outside linebackers UW has seen in recent years with Watt, Biegel, and Joe Schobert.

It’s been an interesting career for redshirt senior Leon Jacobs. After moving from outside linebacker (2013) to inside linebacker (2014), he switched sides to fullback (2016) and then again to inside linebacker midway through last season after injuries hampered depth at the position.

Back at his original collegiate position, Jacobs appeared to be working with the first-team defense toward the end of camp.

“I’m excited for Leon and about Leon,” Chryst said after the spring game in April. “There’s a guy that would do anything for this team, and he did it. Last year at this time he was playing fullback, and then he jumped in and had injuries and was playing inside backer.

“But I think the outside is a really good fit for him, and I thought what he did and ‘Tibs’ did—we had talked about this, Leon came to me right when we came back from the bowl game, and I think he’s a guy that is capable of having a really big impact on this team. I’m excited for him to have that senior year that you’re playing your best football. He works. He’s talented. I think he’ll be really a big part of what we do defensively.”

Leonhard told ESPN Madison last week that he was also excited for Jacobs.

A newcomer to Wisconsin, JUCO transfer Andrew Van Ginkel has the size and frame to make his presence known to opposing offenses.

Van Ginkel mostly worked with the second-team defense during the spring, but he showcased some flash plays, notably making a couple of interceptions. He should be, at the very least, a rotational player who finds snaps during the season. Tibesar noted during the spring that Van Ginkel showed “so far that he’s a guy who can help us win Big Ten games.”

Andrew Van Ginkel before Wisconsin’s spring game in April.
Patrick Barron

Zack Baun admitted in the spring that he needed to improve against the run and become stronger, with Tibesar noting the defense needs to take advantage of the former prep quarterback’s strengths.

Baun’s experience last season, especially a six-tackle performance against Ohio State, should serve him well heading into 2017.

Outside of those four outside linebackers, Tibesar told UWBadgers.com’s Mike Lucas that Alabama transfer Christian Bell and redshirt freshman Keldric Preston were trying to find playing time heading into fall camp. Noah Burks is an intriguing option, but it appeared he also received reps at inside linebacker during the spring. Where he ends up remains to be seen until UW releases its fall camp roster later this summer.

Though he’s still listed as an inside linebacker on the spring roster, Biegel told B5Q back in April that walk-on Tyler Johnson was heading back to outside linebacker. Again, that remains to be officially confirmed by UW.

Regardless of who steps up in this class, one of its predecessors believes the group will continue the success of years past.

“Whether it’s Leon, Dooley, or whoever it may be at the outside linebacker position,” Biegel said, “I have full confidence that they’ll continue to hold that outside linebacker standard that we have set at Wisconsin. Because myself, Schobert, T.J., there’s a path there that we left and there’s a tradition, and I know those guys will continue that. I’m excited to watch it this season.”