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Wisconsin Football: Linebacker Position Preview

There’s a lot to replace in this room, who appears up for the challenge?

Wisconsin v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Wisconsin football opens its season at Camp Randall on September 3rd where they’ll take on the Illinois State Redbirds. The Badgers are finishing up Fall camp this week and will soon be transitioning into game week, which means it’s time to get you prepped for what you should expect to see from each position group this Fall.

Next up, linebackers!

Depth Chart Projection (projected starter in bold)

OLB: Nick Herbig, Kaden Johnson

OLB: C.J. Goetz, Darryl Peterson

ILB: Jordan Turner, Tatum Grass

ILB: Jake Chaney, Maema Njongmeta

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Nebraska at Wisconsin Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2022 Position Preview

Inside Linebacker

Moving into 2022, Wisconsin must replace most of its inside linebacker production from 2021. All-American linebacker Leo Chanel (Chiefs) and All-Big Ten linebacker Jack Sanborn (Bears) have moved on to the NFL while Mike Maskalunas has retired from football. The trio combined for all of the starts from last season which means there are many new faces to get to know.

To make matters more difficult, the linebacker coaching position has been a revolving door since the bowl game. Bob Bostad has moved to the offensive line coaching position, which brought on the hiring of Bill Sheridan who promptly resigned from the program after spring ball due to an NCAA recruiting investigation from his time at Air Force. This led to Mark D’nofrio being hired as ILB coach in June, essentially resetting the position battle for the second time in 2022.

Despite all of the turnover in the room, there doesn’t seem to be any panic regarding the position. While there hasn’t been a consistent rotation for what’s been available to reporters in camp, sophomore Jordan Turner still feels like a lock for at least one of the starting positions.

Alongside him, it’s anyone’s guess between sophomore Jake Chaney, junior Maema Njongmeta, and redshirt sophomore Tatum Grass. Grass and Turner were the number one’s coming out of spring ball but this Fall they have both been running separately at the Mike spot.

At the Will position, one of Jake Chaney or Maema Njongmeta will likely fill in. Meanwhile, Bryan Sanborn, the younger brother of Jack, has emerged in the competition as well. All five linebackers have consistently been getting reps with the number one defense in camp.

Normally not having a clear starting pair at this point in camp would be viewed as a problem, but the group seems to be pushing each other and because of that, they all have the ability to play. If the coaches are comfortable running more than one group, it could mean the group is deep with the potential to be really good in the years to come. Wisconsin has a lighter schedule to start this Fall, which means they might have a little more time to figure out what meshes best before heading to Columbus on September 24th.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Nebraska at Wisconsin Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Outside linebacker

There may not be a deeper or more talented position on the Wisconsin roster this year than the outside linebackers. Despite losing starter Noah Burks from 2021, the Badgers recruiting at the position could really pay off in 2022.

Junior Nick Herbig is back and will be a featured player in 2022 after a 2021 season where he recorded 9 sacks. He’s already been named to the AP’s preseason All-American second team as well as the Bednarik Award watch list. Assuming he stays healthy, Herbig is going to have a big season again in 2022.

Alongside him, redshirt junior C.J. Goetz appears to be the leader in the clubhouse in having the starting spot locked up, but Wisconsin should likely rotate a few players at that spot. Sophomore Daryll Peterson has also been flashing all Fall after having a strong Spring and could see split reps with Goetz as both have different skill sets. Goetz has become known for his run-stopping ability while Peterson is still working on rounding out that area of his game. Redshirt sophomore Kaden Johnson and redshirt freshman TJ Bollers will also see snaps this year which could be great for their chances to start once the room starts to thin out.

Season Expectations

Looking at the inside position first, the group as a whole is inexperienced. Jordan Turner has the most experience after appearing in six games last year with six tackles and two interceptions. His ceiling is high, which is why I think as the year goes on he will start to be a force in the middle of the defense. This year feels like we are going to see a lot more of a “by committee” approach. If that’s the case, I’d expect some growing pains early if guys can’t get in a rhythm because they aren’t out there for every down. On the flip side, it could end up creating a really nice rotation of rested guys once the rotation begins taking shape.

For the outside linebacker spot, I don’t think there is any way this group could disappoint this year. The variety of players Wisconsin has amassed at this position over the years has been impressive. There are very few teams in the nation with as much talent on the edge and most of the backups would likely be starters elsewhere.

In my opinion, I think this group has the chance to be the best group in the history of the program and there have been a lot of really good players to come through the doors. The bar is high but I have no worries about them clearing it. Nick Herbig will be schemed for by opposing offenses every week, and that should give way to multiple young guys making big plays over the course of the season. That doesn’t necessarily mean Herbig will be quiet, but I do believe we are going to hear a lot from the other guys in the room.