Spring Position Preview: Linebackers

Returning three starters and two key reserves that should compete for playing time in 2008, the Wisconsin linebackers look as strong as ever in spring camp.

Starters returning: Seniors Jonathan Casillas and DeAndre Levy and junior Elijah Hodge

Other key returnees: Junior Jae McFadden and sophomores Culmer St. Jean and Blake Sorensen

Starters departed: None

Other key departures: James Kamoku

Injured Players: Jonathan Casillas

2007 position coach: Dave Doeren

2008 position coach: Dave Doeren and Randall McCray

Spring Storylines

With injuries plaguing the defensive line and the secondary, position coaches Dave Doeren and Randall McCray have to be thrilled at the healthiness, depth and experience at the linebacker position during spring camp. Wisconsin returns six linebackers that saw time from a year ago and only Will linebacker Jonathan Casillas is missing time after a lineman fell on his ankle in the team's fourth practice.

Casillas (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) started all 13 games last season and was a consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten choice. Elected as one of the team's five captains prior to last season, Casillas has 179 total tackles and 21.5 tackles for losses the last two seasons. His 96 tackles led the team last season, leading the team in tackles six times, and was one of the bright spots of the Outback Bowl, registering a career-high nine solo tackles.

Backing up Casillas last season and seeing repetitions with the first-team defense will be junior Jae McFadden. McFadden (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) was primarily on special teams or linebacker for 10 games last season. McFadden finished the season with 13 tackles and was beginning to see more reps at linebacker until he dislocated his left elbow and torn some ligaments against Northern Illinois, missing three weeks.

Originally slated to not return until the bowl game, McFadden came back early and played against the Gophers and had three tackles and a pass breakup in the bowl game.

On the other end of the linebacker core, DeAndre Levy will secure the Sam linebacker position. Just like Casillas, Levy (6-foot-3, 234 pounds) started all 13 games at the Sam and finished second to Casillas with team tackles (70). Although missing yesterday's practice with a stiff back, Levy has shown he has not missed a step heading into his final season.

Backing up Levy, sophomore Blake Sorensen (6-foot-1, 223 pounds) was primarily on special teams last season, playing in 12 games. Sorensen did record three tackles against Tennessee and was active on defense Tuesday with Levy out with injury.

While Casillas and Levy held down the Will and Sam positions last year, respectively, spring workouts are extremely important to junior Mike Linebacker Elijah Hodge. Hodge (6-foot-1, 226 pounds) started in 11 of 12 games but was plagued with various injuries throughout the entire season, including missing the Illinois game and played minimal against Minnesota. Even so, Hodge finished third on team with 67 tackles and even blocked a field goal attempt in Tampa against the Volunteers.

Hodge missed the first week of spring practice before Wisconsin's spring break and has slowly working back to participating in a full practice (he practiced roughly 75 percent Tuesday, April 1).

Listed as the co-No.1 Mike linebacker is sophomore Culmer St. Jean, who was the backup Mike linebacker last season, as well. Playing in 12 games and started his first career game for Hodge against Illinois, St. Jean (6-foot-1, 229 pounds) played his best when given the opportunity – he had a career-high six tackles against Minnesota and had five tackles at Illinois. St. Jean has used the off season to get bigger and stronger and will certainly push for the starting job and playing time.

Others to Consider

Senior Ryan Flasch (6-foot-1, 225 pounds): The road to the field for Flasch has been a challenging one. He redshirted the 2004 season as a member of UNLV, he sat out 2005 after transferring to Wisconsin and missed the entire 2006 season due to a fall camp leg injury. Last season, Flasch finally made it on the field and played in nine games on special teams, registering seven total tackles.

Junior Erik Prather (6-foot-3, 220 pounds): Playing on special teams in eight games and named UW scout team defensive player of the week for Michigan game, Prather also transferred to Wisconsin, coming from Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. for the 2006 season.

Freshman Kevin Rouse (6-foot-0, 228 pounds): Redshirted last season and was named UW's scout team defensive player of the week for Northern Illinois game. Ranked as the No. 11 middle linebacker by Scout and a four-star prospect, Rouse's natural aggressiveness, size and instincts made him an attractive prospect, receiving multiple offers from Midwest and Eastern schools. Rouse originally committed to Iowa in August and changed his commitment in December to the Badgers.

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