Think Alex Lewis.
Words like vocal, excitable, physical, athletic and energetic come to mind. A football player more than anything, someone who may not have always played with discipline, may not have always made the perfect read, but always showed the fire that made him one of the most explosive pieces in Wisconsin's defense the past two seasons.
There is no secret that he and fellow departed senior Jeff Mack will be missed. Mack tied safety Jim Leonhard for the team lead with 98 tackles. Lewis was third (89), led the team in sacks (9) and was second in tackles for loss (16.5). He was a dynamic player whether playing in space from his eagle linebacker position or whether he dropped to a three-point stance and harassed quarterbacks from a rush end spot.
Enter Jammar Crane.
"He has been a good leader for us. Basically, a guy that takes care of his business the majority of the time," Garland (Texas) High School football coach Jeff Jordan said. "He's very vocal. He plays very excited. You know, really loves to play football.
"He's a very instinctive player. He's not real big, but he's very explosive when he's tackling and hitting people."
"They say I'm a lot like Alex in blitzing and everything," Crane said. "And I watched them a lot this year and the things that he was doing, those are some of the things that I definitely want to do."
In fact, Crane played a will linebacker position at Garland that was strikingly similar to the eagle position he will play at Wisconsin. Crane, who stands all of 6-foot-1, 195-pounds, is not the world's biggest linebacker. So Jordan and his staff put him on the edge and moved him around—when he played close to the line of scrimmage, there were linemen in front to cover him up. He also frequently played rush end, taking advantage of his 4.48 40-yard dash time and lined up in the slot against wide receivers.
At a solidly built 6-1, 237, Lewis had the bulk to play between the tackles, but was best when he could attack off the edge and have a clearer view of the field. He certainly did not have the ideal weight to go toe-to-toe with offensive tackles, but was at times absolutely dominant as a pass rusher because of his instincts, aggressiveness and quickness—all qualities that Crane possesses.
"I'm not really the ideal weight to really take on big linemen," Crane said. "I used my explosiveness; my explosiveness and speed because what they can't see they can't hit. I can just blow right past them."
Considered one of the best linebackers in Texas following a junior season in which he had 80 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles, and one interception, Crane was being recruited by more than 30 schools at the beginning of his senior season.
"We felt like he was going to be a dominant player this year and, of course, unfortunately it didn't work out with him getting hurt," Jordan said.
Crane missed eight games last fall after suffering torn ligaments in his right foot. He played in just four contests, including the last three games of the season, finishing with 20 tackles, but far and away his shining moment came in Garland's 19-10 upset win over Lufkin in the opening round of the Class 5A state playoffs when he returned a fumble 36 yards for a touchdown to ice the victory.
But due to the injury, most of his potential suitors melted away.
"At the start of the year there were a ton," Jordan said. "Now, a bunch of people backed off when he got hurt."
Wisconsin, along with Kansas, Colorado State and Tulsa, stuck with him and Crane, after going back and forth between the Badgers and Jayhawks, eventually decided to make his way to Madison in large part because he expects to contribute immediately, based on what Wisconsin's coaches have told both him and Jordan.
"From what they've been telling me he is going to come in and he's got a chance to play pretty quickly," Jordan said. "He's a good football player. He has been very productive for us. If he can get bigger and get stronger and get fully recovered from his foot injury I don't see why he can't come in and contribute next year."
Crane says his foot, "is a lot better than it was." As far as playing next year goes, "it is basically all up to me as to what I want to do," he said. "I'm going to go in there and I'm going to work my hardest, try to beat out whatever competition I have and get playing time."
With Lewis' departure, the incumbent of sorts at eagle linebacker is Elliot Goode and, among program veterans, players such as Paul Joran and Reggie Cribbs are also likely to get a crack at the position. Wisconsin is expecting to sign three other potential linebackers Wednesday—Nick Sutton (Detroit, Mich.), Andy Crooks (Wausau, Wis.) and Joe Walker (Green Bay Notre Dame). Walker, though, will greyshirt and along with Sutton could just as easily end up at safety. Crooks could play any of the three linebacker spots but is most likely to fit at drop linebacker—leaving Crane to be thrown into the mix at eagle.
The competition at linebacker is further complicated by the departure of linebackers coach and defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove. A new coach, unburden by preconceptions, could make it even more likely that the positions are open to wide competition.
Crane was initially worried that Cosgrove's departure would negatively affect his opportunity at Wisconsin. Badger head coach Barry Alvarez, though, assured him that nothing would change regarding the defensive scheme or the team's plans for him.
"I had gone into a strong relationship with Coach Cosgrove and he was also one of the big reasons why I committed because I wanted to play for a coach like him," Crane said. "But, in turn, when he left it really didn't alter me that much because I figured as long as the head coach is still there and he knows what I can do, no matter what coach he hires, you know and I'll still be in the same position as I am, you know, coming into it. Nothing is going to change. Coach Alvarez, he assured me that nothing is going to change and that the plans that they have for me are still the same.
"Plans for me are, you know, they think I can play early. The plans for me as of defensive-wise, you know, I was afraid, like, the defensive scheme was going to change, but he said it's his defense. Everything is going to still be run the way, you know, that he has it."