Fall Camp Guide: Linebackers

Starters return but UW is looking for considerable improvement from this group

Starters returning: Sophomore mike linebacker Andy Crooks, 6-3, 242 (2004 stats: five starts, 12 games, 38 tackles, one interception and one pass defended); senior will linebacker Dontez Sanders, 6-1, 208 (12 starts, 12 games, 76 tackles, one fumble caused, two fumbles recovered, one interception and four passes defended); and junior sam linebacker Mark Zalewski, 6-2, 228 (12 starts, 12 games, 55 tackles, one fumble recovery and two passes defended)

More key returnees: Sophomore sam linebacker Casey Hogan, 6-5, 201; redshirt freshman mike linebacker Josh Neal, 5-10, 234; and senior will linebacker LaMarr Watkins, 6-1, 223 (five games, nine tackles and one pass defended).

Newcomers: Freshmen sam linebacker Travis Beckum, 6-4, 220; will linebacker Jonathan Casillas, 6-2, 200; will linebacker Elijah Hodge, 6-1, 205; will linebacker DeAndre Levy, 6-3, 215; sam linebacker Jarmal Ruffin, 6-4, 200; and mike linebacker O'Brien Schofield, 6-3, 220.

Also in the mix: Redshirt freshman will linebacker Jammar Crane, 6-1, 200; junior mike linebacker Paul Joran, 6-3, 234 (two games, two tackles); redshirt freshman sam or will linebacker Ben Landgraf, 6-3, 208; senior mike linebacker Elliot Goode, 6-2, 239 (six games as a backup linebacker and on special teams, one tackle); and junior mike linebacker Victor Meckstroth, 6-1, 245.

Departures: Reggie Cribbs (seven starts, made tackles in eight games, 38 tackles, one quarterback hurry), Nick Sutton and T.J. Wielebski.

Reasons to be excited: All three starters return and should be improved this fall…. Zalewski played at a very high level last year. A fine all-around player, Zalewski can stuff the run, blitz the passer or drop into coverage adeptly… UW's depth at the position should be improved with the arrival of a highly touted freshman class and the development of some more tenured reserves…the Badgers need better play at will linebacker, but last season was Sanders' first at the position and he is a vocal leader on the defense.

Cause for trepidation: This was clearly UW's weakest area defensively last season. The depth was particularly poor… The Badgers' incoming freshmen corps has loads of potential but decorating a two-deep with true freshmen typically is not an ideal situation. You cannot argue with talent, though… With the exception of Zalewski, UW cannot feel comfortable with the position heading into camp. The Badgers' coaches have said as much publicly in the weeks leading up to training camp.

Camp questions: Will Crooks and Sanders hold on to their starting spots? They will be pushed throughout camp, not only by the veterans listed behind them on the depth chart, but by that talented corps of freshmen that is geared up for playing time… Is Sanders completely healthy after missing all of spring ball?... Which positions will the freshmen end up playing? Many of them are athletic and strong enough to play multiple positions, not just at linebacker but elsewhere on the team… Will Hogan and Neal continue to push for playing time after making big leaps in the spring?

Forecast: Expect the incumbent starters to hold onto their positions. Zalewski is an All-Big Ten caliber linebacker. Crooks was just a true freshman last season and is going to be a standout once he settles in. Sanders should improve after a year as a starter and his excitable nature does wonders for the defense's on-field attitude… But the Badgers will likely roll several other linebackers onto the field, whether in a pure rotation or as situational players… Watkins, Hogan and Neal will all be in the mix for playing time. Hogan's skills in coverage and as a pass rusher will make him a strong candidate for a role in the nickel… There is a big opening for the freshmen to emerge as contributors either as reserve linebackers or on special teams. And again, the only settled starter is Zalewski.

BadgerNation.com projected depth chart

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