Spring practice begins today for the Wisconsin Badgers.
With several key changes to the roster and a revamped coaching staff, this spring will provide us the first look at what next year’s football team might look like when they open up against Illinois State on September 3.
Previous spring previews:
Our position-by-position preview of the major questions heading into the spring for Wisconsin football concludes with the outside linebackers.
Who starts opposite Nick Herbig?
Outside linebacker Nick Herbig is one of the few sure-fire starters on Wisconsin’s defense this spring.
The Hawaii product is a two-year starter and is poised to have a big year in 2022, assuming he can stay healthy.
However, the starting spot opposite Herbig is up for grabs this spring, and there are plenty of viable candidates for the role.
CJ Goetz brings the most experience to the position after rotating in the past two seasons behind Herbig and Noah Burks. Now a senior, Goetz will probably get the first opportunity to win the job. While he is not the most flashy or explosive option, he is a consistent player and added 18 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks in 13 games a season ago.
Beyond Goetz, there are several other intriguing possibilities based on how assistant coach Bobby April has accrued talent the past couple of seasons.
Here are the remaining options, with a quick blurb about each:
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Darryl Peterson saw his standing in the outside linebacker room improve as the season progressed last season. He only played in two games to maintain his redshirt status, but Peterson was the talk of fall camp and is an incredibly strong bull-rusher. He still needs to refine his technique in coverage and round out his pass-rushing moves, but the talent is there for the 6-foot-1 outside ‘backer from Ohio. It would not be a surprise to see him earn the starting spot based on the number of reps he played in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Aaron Witt is a wildcard this spring. At 6-foot-6, his length di lui differentiates him from the rest of the group. After missing all of 2021 with an injury, it will be interesting to see where Witt is with conditioning, but he is a tenaciously physical player. Witt played in five games as a true freshman, including a sack, forced fumble, and two tackles for loss in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. If he can quickly get back to where he was at the end of 2020, Witt could easily be a top contender for the starting position.
A big pickup on the recruiting trail back in the 2019 class, Kaden Johnson started to put it together last season. While he primarily saw playing time on special teams, he did see the field in six games and recorded two tackles. The Minnesota native has a ton of upside, and it will be fascinating to see if he can make a run this spring at a spot in the two-deep or grab the open starting role outright.
TJ Bollers is another former four-star prospect from the Midwest with huge potential. Kind of a tweener at 6-foot-2 and pushing 260 pounds, Bollers has the talent to become a starter on Wisconsin defense. He only participated in one game a year ago after enrolling early, but with a year in the weight room under his belt, this spring could be big for the Iowa native. There is still an outside chance that he eventually shifts to the defensive line, but Bollers is a great athlete and a player to watch this spring.
Does Bobby April utilize a rotation?
The past two seasons Bobby April relied on his starters, Nick Herbig and Noah Burks, frequently. CJ Goetz earned some playing time as a reserve last year, but most plays included Herbig and Burks on the field.
With a group of highly-skilled young players now a year, or more, into the program, I am curious to see if April rotates players more at the spot opposite Herbig. A rotation would help keep players fresh, but it would also allow April to see what he has in his young crop of players.
If Nick Herbig puts together a huge year there is chance that he could bolt early for the NFL Draft after next season. Building depth and experience with players such as TJ Bollers, Darryl Peterson, Kaden Johnson, and Aaron Witt this spring would go a long way in helping prepare for the future.
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