Linebackers: Zack Baun (three stars, No.54 OLB by Scout.com), Arrington Farrar (four stars No.30 OLB), Alec Ingold (three stars, No.53 OLB), Chris Orr (three stars, No.101 OLB), Nick Thomas (three stars, No.49 MLB).
Needing to be able to replenish the talent at the linebacker position, Wisconsin certainly did that by signing five athletic linebackers who bring different aspects to the position but help boost the athletic talent.
With Wisconsin losing five scholarship linebackers, including both inside linebackers in Derek Landisch and Marcus Trotter, it open the door for some of the freshmen to make an early impact. The most likely of the group is Thomas, as the projected inside linebacker is enrolled early and will have plenty of opportunities to learn the defense and get reps during spring practices. Thomas isn’t the quickest but demonstrates the ability to dissect the play and make the tackle. Like most freshmen, Thomas needs to get stronger but enrolling early gives him an edge and a chance to contribute in his freshman season.
Farrar - the highest-rated commit of the linebackers - played safety for Atlanta Woodward Academy. He has the frame to add weight and strength without losing any of his speed. Farrar has shown that he has the ability to blitz from multiple positions, as he lined up at either safety spot or outside linebacker over the last two years. His experience at safety will help him in passing situations as he makes the transition to linebacker, especially since he registered two interceptions and seven pass deflections as a senior.
Orr plays with a violent streak and consistently plays to the whistle. He is willing to throw his body around to make plays for DeSoto High School, as he was able to force four fumbles as a senior and 13 in his two year varsity career. If harnessed, it’s a violent streak that coaches love to have, especially out of a linebacker. Orr is the kind of player Aranda is aiming for to take his 3-4 defense to the next level. After adding some strength to tackle college players with some force, Orr should be able to fit right into the linebackers room.
Both Baun and Ingold were high school quarterbacks in Wisconsin and will need to be able to make the transition to linebacker. That shouldn’t be a problem with their natural athletic talent and might open the opportunity for them to play early on special teams. It may take two years to adjust and build their bodies into the linebacker position but both have the speed where they should be able to thrive in Aranda’s scheme and make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
“I think they're really good football players,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said. “I had a chance to kind of know a little bit more about Alec. He's 28-0 as a wrestler right now, top in his class as a student, player of the year with 2,000 yards rushing. When you watch the tape you say 'he likes playing the game.' I think he had a big hand in helping that team be successful.”
“When you look at the athleticism of Zack, you watch his basketball highlights and then you see him playing football, you get a feel for who they are and … they want to be really good,” Chryst continued. “You just feel confident that they're the right kind of guys that will fit and do well here. I think that linebacker right now is probably where you would start them at and see… but I think they both have a great opportunity here to be special.”
It could be argued that Wisconsin got all of its realistic top targets at linebacker in 2015, except for one. Giving Wisconsin his verbal commitment on his official visit, Seffner (FL) Armwood inside linebacker Jordan Griffin was told by Aranda that he was the top player on UW’s recruiting board. UW aggressively recruited Griffin but couldn’t prevent him from flipping to Vanderbilt on signing day. It was a big blow for UW on signing day morning.
Signing Day Grade: B+