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Opportunity present for Wisconsin OLBs entering 2018

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The Badgers are looking for someone to step up across from Andrew Van Ginkel.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Ohio State vs Wisconsin Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY Sports

The Wisconsin Badgers, rightfully so, are often praised for their ability to develop players and get absolutely everything they can out of players that were often passed over by bigger programs. The Badgers will have to do exactly that this season with their outside linebackers in order to keep their defense at the standard they’ve established the past few seasons.

In Wisconsin’s 3-4 hybrid scheme, outside linebackers aren’t asked to be pure pass rushers but are absolutely depended on for pass-rush production. Outside of Joe Schobert and T.J. Watt, no recent Wisconsin outside linebacker has had more than eight sacks in a season, so the scheme isn’t dependent on huge sack numbers from its edge rushers.

Wisconsin’s 2018 Outside Linebackers

No. Name Height Weight Year Hometown High School/Former College
No. Name Height Weight Year Hometown High School/Former College
17 Andrew Van Ginkel 6-4 236 R-Sr. Rock Valley, Iowa Rock Valley/Iowa Western C.C.
18 Arrington Farrar 6-2 249 Sr. Atlanta, Ga. Woodward
56 Zack Baun 6-3 230 R-Jr. Brown Deer, Wis. Brown Deer
38 Paul Jackson 6-3 234 R-Jr. Miami Gardens, Fla. Youngstown (Ohio) Ursuline
59 Tyler Johnson 6-3 240 R-Jr. Menasha, Wis. Menasha
55 Christian Bell 6-4 247 R-So. Birmingham, Ala. Hoover/Alabama
41 Noah Burks 6-2 241 R-So. Carmel, Ind. Carmel
46 Hegeman Tiedt 6-4 235 R-So. Burlington, Wis. Burlington
50 Izayah Green-May 6-6 223 R-Fr. Bolingbrook, Ill. Bolingbrook
42 Jaylan Franklin 6-4 214 Fr. Brownstown, Mich. O.A. Carlson
48 Mason Platter 6-4 222 Fr. Menomonie, Wis. Menomonie
32 Marty Strey 6-2 214 Fr. (Walk-On) Sun Prairie, Wis. Sun Prairie

Andrew Van Ginkel is pretty easily the headliner of a group with a lot of potential but a comparable amount to prove. He’s firmly entrenched as one of the starters and is expected to lead the Badgers in sacks this season.

The other outside linebacker spot is where the question marks begin. Tyler Johnson and Zack Baun are two former prep standout quarterbacks who transitioned to outside linebacker in Madison, and both have produced during their brief opportunities for playing time.

Johnson stepped in as a rotational player last season, with Baun out with a lingering foot injury. He earned the praise of coaches, but his adjustment to more consistent playing time will be crucial.

Baun, who saw significant playing time in 2016 behind T.J. Watt and Garret Dooley against Michigan and Ohio State during Vince Biegel’s injury, is the more athletic of the two. He showed his prowess in coverage, being right in the hip pocket of Dontre Wilson on a perfectly-thrown ball 40 yards downfield against Ohio State. The pass was completed, but due to no fault of Baun’s. If he can stay healthy, he should be the favorite to start on the strong (field) side across from Van Ginkel.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

This brings us to a couple of wildcards who have no playing experience in games at outside linebacker, but could both carve out roles in the defense. Senior Arrington Farrar and redshirt sophomore Christian Bell are both players to watch in fall camp.

Farrar is a former four-star recruit who lifted himself out of the safety room and found himself as an inside linebacker in 2017. Maybe a move outside as a senior can have an effect similar to what Leon Jacobs experienced last season. It’s also important to note that Farrar is arguably Wisconsin’s best special teams cover guy.

Bell, an Alabama transfer and high school teammate of Bradrick Shaw, has the measurables and the pedigree you look for at the position. Now entering his third season in Madison, look for Bell to find his way onto the field.

The rest—Noah Burks, Izayah Green-May, Hegeman Tiedt, and Paul Jackson—all face uphill battles to see many minutes in 2018. Burks has bounced between outside and inside linebacker, but is also a key special-teamer. Green-May is a pass-rush specialist who is still acclimating to the college game. Listed at 6’6, 223 pounds, he has some extremely intriguing tools physically. He has to continue to put on size to pair with his length, so look for him in 2019. Tiedt is a former walk-on who showed he was adept at the position in spring, but he should look to continue to develop at the position along with Jackson, who converted from wide receiver in the spring.