Wisconsin’s re-tooled inside linebacker room filled with upside

·3 min read

Madison, Wis. – Wisconsin football held an open competition for both starting inside linebacker spots this fall, but several players should see the field in 2022. 

Wisconsin lost Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn, who were arguably the best inside linebacker tandem in the country last season, to the NFL—leaving a significant amount of snaps up for grabs among a young but talented group of linebackers. 

“First off, that group, the competition was awesome,” said defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard in a video posted on Twitter by Jeff Potrykus. “I would say the growth from spring to the end of camp, really fun to watch that group grow and compete every day.”

During spring and fall practices, the Badgers coaching staff gave equal opportunity to players like Jordan Turner, Maema Njongmeta, Tate Grass, Jake Chaney, and Bryan Sanborn, who reportedly pushed for a spot in the two-deep late in camp.

“It was kind of make it-take it. Whoever graded out best the day before, you’re going with the ones,” explained Leonhard. “If you didn’t, ‘Let’s go take it back.’ They really bought into that and played off each other really well.”

On Monday, Wisconsin’s coaching staff released their first official depth chart. Heading into week one, the top pairing vs. Illinois State will be Turner and Njongmeta, both tremendous athletes for the position.

“To me, Jordan and Maema, just the consistency with what they did – I just think the consistency overall with what they did in camp, gave them a little bit of an edge,” said Leonhard.

Behind them, former walk-on Tate Grass and Jake Chaney round of the two-deep. The top four inside backers are expected to rotate in – which is a stark contrast from last season, where Chenal and Sanborn played almost every down.

Although the group is inexperienced, Wisconsin has recruited the position exceptionally well. Players like Bryan Sanborn, Spencer Lytle, Jake Ratzlaff, and Aidan Vaughn not being in the top group speaks to the overall depth of the ILB room.

I believe that Turner, who made an impact last season despite playing only 24 snaps, has a chance to be the next star inside linebacker for Wisconsin football. In a limited role, he registered six tackles, two pressures, two interceptions, and the fifth-highest Pro Football Focus grade of UW’s returning defensive players (71.1). He’s oozing with potential, and his defensive coordinator, Jim Leonhard, agrees.

“Physically, you look at him and you’re like, ‘Wow,'” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said. “He’s big, physical, he can run, he’s a striker. Probably runs as well as any (inside) backer we’ve had here recently. When you start talking about the physical side, sometimes you overlook — he understands ball. He gets it. He can communicate. It’s a lot of fun pushing him because his ceiling is extremely high.”

If you expect the play at ILB to remain at the same level it was last season; you’ll likely be disappointed. That said, this group has plenty of young talent with potential and will be a fun position group to monitor once the season gets underway. The cream, as they say, will rise to the top.

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Story originally appeared on Badgers Wire