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Spring Football 2021: linebackers preview

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Arguably Wisconsin’s best position over the past 7-8 years should remain that way.

Syndication: Journal Sentinel Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

If it seems like there have been more sports than ever this March it is because, well, there have been! What’s one more to add to the pile? The Wisconsin Badgers football team starts their spring practice on Tuesday, March 30 and we are going to start previewing each position group. UW will have 15 practices after having zero last year due to COVID-19.

Instead of the traditional position previews we’ve done in the past, these ones are going to be a little more focused on just a couple of players. We will feature one or two players who we think a full spring practice will really help and focus on one position battle that we think will be important.

Let’s take a look at the linebackers!

Players who will benefit from a full spring practice schedule

  • Inside linebacker is a bit of a log-jam with both Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal returning who accounted for a vast majority of the snaps at the position last season. With depth stacking up behind them, this spring could be a vital time for multiple players who are looking to carve out their role this year, and looking to jump into the starting lineup when Sanborn leaves after the 2021 season.

Three that really stick out are now redshirt(?) freshmen Jordan Turner, Malik Reed and Preston Zachman. All three were brought in last year and found their way onto the field in some capacity. The Badgers have seemingly had waves of inside linebackers over the last eight years or so (Landisch and Trotter, Edwards and Connelly, Orr and Sanborn), and this class has a chance to be it’s own wave. Turner and Reed are much more thumpers at the position, while Zachman played quarterback in high school and was regarded as an ATH by most recruiting services. Continued practice and development for this group could pay major dividends for them down the road.

Wisconsin v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
  • Outside linebacker is quite a bit less settled at the moment. Both starters from last season, redshirt senior Noah Burks and true freshman Nick Herbig (pictured above), return, but I’d hardly say the position is set. Redshirt juniors Izayah Green-May and C.J. Goetz, redshirt freshman Spencer Lytle and true freshman Aaron Witt all got significant playing time at the position at different points of last season, and it’s a position the Badgers continue to load up at, bringing in 4-star pass rusher Kaden Johnson, with a talented group in this upcoming class as well.

To me, this is Izayah Green-May’s time to finally cement himself in the starting lineup. A “starter” for the first game of the last two seasons, IGM has struggled to keep weight on and stay healthy. If he can, he could slot himself in next to Herbig at outside linebacker in the fall.

Key position battle

  • Nick Herbig, the freshman from Hawaii, found his way onto the field very early in his first year, and never let go of the position. A building block on the outside potentially for the next 3-4 years, Herbig will be looking to find his primary running mate at outside linebacker moving forward.

Burks, Green-May and Goetz should all be fighting for this spot, with true freshman Aaron Witt also likely to find his way into the rotation. Green-May offers the most pass rush upside of the group, but Jim Leonhard and the Badgers’ defensive scheme very highly values the ability to set the edge and be firm against the run. He’s behind the other three in that regard.