Everyone that follows the Badgers closely knows that Defensive Line Coach John Palermo likes to rotate a number of players in and out of his line, keeping players fresh and using the talent within the depth chart.
This season, we might start to see something similar in the linebacking corps, with a tremendous amount of depth and young talent available. Following spring practice, there were at least seven players that promise to see regular playing time within the linebacking corps. Here are some thoughts on some of the top LB's following spring ball:
- Kareem Timbers surprised a lot of people when he won the starting outside linebacker spot early in spring football, taking over for Lamarr Watkins. But the 6-3, 213-pound junior definitely earned that spot. He improved considerably this spring, eliminating many of the mental errors that kept him off the field the last couple of years. After moving Timbers back-and-forth from the secondary to the linebacking corps, it appears he's finally found a home.
- Don't expect to see Lamarr Watkins disappear though. Watkins had a strong true freshman season, playing a position that few true freshmen can handle, particularly in the Big Ten. Watkins will make a strong push for this starting spot in the fall, and if he's still at No. 2, expect to see him in the game on a regular basis regardless.
- Jeff Mack is the picture of consistency at middle linebacker, and he's one of the most underrated players in the Big Ten. If Mack stays healthy, which is a big if, he should have an opportunity to play at the next level. He is the anchor of the defense, and much like the guys he idolized growing up, he is truly a coach on the field. Mack continues to be one of the most valuable players on either side of the ball for this program.
- Mark Zalewski is the next middle linebacker, waiting in the wings. He would have played regularly last season if he hadn't been injured in fall camp. And after slipping to the No. 3 defense early this spring, he quickly bounced back and was firmly in the second spot behind Mack at the close of spring ball. He is another guy that Defensive Coordinator Kevin Cosgrove will find ways to get on the field.
- Kyle McCorison struggled last season taking over for Mack, but he provides the Badgers a solid option with a lot of experience in the linebacking corps. McCorison will continue to battle Zalewski for the No. 2 Mike spot, and he received reps with the No. 1 defense on a regular basis throughout the spring.
- The problem with signing junior college kids is you only have two years with them. And that's the one major negative with Alex Lewis, who has an infinite amount of talent but despite his senior status, he's really only a sophomore in terms of his development. He is still struggling to learn all of the defenses and understand his responsibilities, but when things click, it's a delight to watch. Lewis could be a major threat as a speed rush end in the nickel package as well.
- Behind Lewis is another young linebacker that Cosgrove wants to get on the field a lot more often this season, Elliot Goode. Last year, Goode's action was confined primarily to special teams, but this year he will get more action in the linebacking corps. Goode is the most likely successor to Lewis following this season.
- Another guy to watch closely is Reggie Cribbs, who was still behind the eight ball this spring because he missed all of last season recovering from an injury suffered in high school. But Cribbs was considered one of Wisconsin's top prospects last year, and Cosgrove speaks very highly of his upside.
- Three other guys that could factor in depending on how their fall camps go are Chris Catalano, John Gillen and Paul Joran. Catalano has plenty of experience, mostly on special teams, while Gillen and Joran are both young players looking to make an impression and move up the depth charts. Joran saw more reps as spring football wore on, but he did not crack the top two units.
Spring Thoughts: Linebackers
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