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Chris Orr to lead Wisconsin’s inside linebackers heading into 2019 spring practices

B5Q previews a position group losing two key seniors but returning talent.

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Inside linebacker has arguably been Wisconsin’s greatest defensive strength in recent seasons, but the Badgers will have to replace both starters, T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly, from 2018. No matter how you slice it, losing two of the most consistent and productive linebackers in the Big Ten will create some growing pains for this group next season.

Redshirt senior Chris Orr returns with valuable playing experience and sophomore Jack Sanborn is in line for a huge 2019. While it’s hard to expect this upcoming season’s inside linebackers to be as great as last year’s, they have the personnel and coaching staff to become one of the better linebacker corps in the Big Ten.

Presumed 2019 spring roster for Wisconsin’s inside linebackers

  • Chris Orr, redshirt senior (13 games played, one start); 27 tackles, two fumble recoveries, one INT
  • Jack Sanborn, sophomore (11 games); seven tackles, one forced fumble
  • Mike Maskalunas, redshirt junior (nine games); four tackles
  • Seth Currens, redshirt junior (13 games, moved from safety as of spring 2019); two tackles
  • Ethan Cesarz, redshirt sophomore; did not play in 2018
  • Jacob Heyroth, redshirt freshman; did not play in 2018
  • Leo Chanel, true freshman; early enrollee

Check out our discussion about the inside linebackers with’s John Veldhuis on a recent edition of Bucky’s 5th Podcast. Be sure to follow on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and pretty much everywhere where you listen to your favorite podcasts!

Who to watch for this spring at inside linebacker

Wisconsin enters the spring having lost two of the best inside linebackers in the country to graduation. Edwards and Connelly were sensational throughout their college careers claimed all-conference honors last season.

The Badgers move on in 2019 with Orr and Sanborn as the likely candidates to replace the two potential future NFL draft picks. Orr has tons of experience, having played in 36 games (16 starts) in his first four seasons on campus, and will be counted on to be the leader of this relatively young position group. He is not the fastest linebacker, but he is a physical player who always seems to be around the ball and has a good chance to lead the Badgers in tackles next season.

Sanborn is the most likely candidate to start next to Orr in defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard’s 3-4 scheme. The Illinois native played in 11 games last season as a true freshman and has the talent to be the next great Wisconsin inside linebacker. Remember, Sanborn was Wisconsin’s highest-rated recruit in the 2018 class according to 247Sports composite rankings and Rivals, and the fact he was able to see the field as a true freshman should bode well for his future success.

After Orr and Sanborn, rising redshirt juniors Mike Maskalunas and Seth Currens will provide the depth for this group. Head coach Paul Chryst announced Currens will switch positions this spring and move from safety to inside linebacker. He will add some much needed speed to this group and will have some coverage skills from his time in the secondary. It was also announced that rising redshirt junior Griffin Grady would be moving to outside linebacker this spring after being listed as an inside linebacker his first three seasons.

Another name to keep an eye on this spring is true freshman Leo Chanel. As an early enrollee, Chanel will have an opportunity to learn the inside ‘backer responsibilities early during these practices, impress the coaching staff and possibly earn some playing time in 2019.