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Wisconsin outside linebackers look to replace departing production at the position

A look at the spring OLBs for the Badgers.

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Wisconsin v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Death. Taxes. Replacing production at the Wisconsin’s outside linebacker position. Or so it seems in recent memory.

From Joe Schobert to T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel to Garret Dooley and Leon Jacobs, Wisconsin has seen players depart, step up, take over and continue significant contributions over the past few seasons.

Now, Andrew Van Ginkel departs the program to pursue an NFL career after an impressive set of showings at the NFL Combine and at Wisconsin’s Pro Day. If not for an injury he fought through the course of the 2018 season, his impact on Jim Leonhard’s unit—a team-leading 5.5 sacks plus 9.5 tackles for loss—is felt even more last year.

Zack Baun showed his potential in his redshirt junior campaign and now leads Bobby April III’s position group entering his final season as a Badger. Who hears the call and contributes opposite him will be critical to the defense’s success in 2019.

2019 spring roster for Wisconsin’s outside linebackers

  • Zack Baun, redshirt senior (13 games, all starts); 63 tackles (third on team), 7.5 tackles for loss (fourth on team), 2.5 sacks, one interception, two pass breakups, eight quarterback hurries (led team)
  • Christian Bell, redshirt junior (nine games); two tackles, one pass breakup, two quarterback hurries; out for spring per head coach Paul Chryst (injury)
  • Noah Burks, redshirt junior (13 games); four tackles, one forced fumble
  • Jaylan Franklin, redshirt freshman; did not play in 2018
  • Griffin Grady, redshirt junior (nine games as an inside linebacker); six tackles
  • Izayah Green-May, redshirt sophomore (six games); one tackle
  • Tyler Johnson, redshirt senior (10 games, two starts); 10 tackles, three tackles for loss, one pass breakup, one quarterback hurry, one forced fumble
  • Spencer Lytle, true freshman (mid-year enrollee)
  • Hegeman Tiedt, redshirt junior; did not play in 2018

Check out our discussion about the outside linebackers with the Wisconsin State Journal’s Jason Galloway 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!

Why to watch this position group in the spring

To me personally, this will be one of the top three positions to watch once practices are open to the media on April 2 (column forthcoming on that by next Tuesday, I promise). Honestly, April’s group is probably No. 2 behind the quarterbacks.

Baun displayed an ability to make plays last season after returning from a left foot injury that cost him all of the 2017 campaign. The Brown Deer, Wis., native will be counted upon to not just provide stability to the group, but excel as the next in line of standout Badgers outside ‘backers.

Chryst announced on March 25 that Bell suffered an injury during bowl prep practices and will not participate in spring ball, which opens up possibilities for others to step up.

A former walk-on, Johnson has seen more significant reps the past two seasons at the position (side note: DID YOU KNOW THAT HE AND BAUN WERE BOTH FORMER HIGH SCHOOL QUARTERBACKS ... sorry, sorry, still working through basketball television commentary on guards Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice). He started two games in 2018 and likely will play a role in the rotation.

Burks played in every game last season, and now the former four-star prep standout (according to Rivals) will have another chance in his fourth year in the program to solidify his spot at the position.

One of the more intriguing positions switches noted by Chryst earlier this week came when he stated Grady was moving to outside linebacker. For those that do not remember, Wisconsin initially listed the Dublin, Ohio native at the position on its 2016 National Signing Day board, but he found a home at inside linebacker as a true freshman. After redshirting during the 2017 season, he returned in 2018 but also suffered a right leg injury that forced him to miss four games.

Needless to say, spring reps will be valuable for Grady to learn and adapt to the position and its techniques.

How redshirt sophomore Izayah Green-May and redshirt freshman Jaylan Franklin develop this spring will be interesting to watch as well. The former is listed at 223 pounds with likely more to potentially grow into his 6’6 frame, while the latter bumped up a noted five pounds to 219 from last year’s designated weight. As seen below from WOZN’s Zach Heilprin, Leonhard spoke of both ‘backers—along with Burks—as younger players who popped out during December practices.

Then there’s Lytle, a four-star linebacker according to Rivals from high school powerhouse St. John’s Bosco in California. He chose to attend Wisconsin over defending national champion Clemson and 42 other reported offers that included late opportunities presented by Northwestern and Iowa.

Currently listed at 204 pounds on the spring roster, enrolling mid-year as a true freshman will help Lytle ease into the college game and the defense early on, all in hopes of propelling that experience to find reps during fall camp.

Check out our National Signing Day interview with 2019 signee Spencer Lytle on a December edition of the podcast!