On Sunday afternoon during local media day, Wisconsin senior outside linebacker Vince Biegel was asked what the identity of this year’s linebacking corps will be.
“Still to be determined,” Biegel responded.
Biegel’s response makes perfect sense, considering the loss of outside linebacker Joe Schobert to graduation and the Cleveland Browns, as well as the recent foot injury to sophomore inside linebacker T.J. Edwards.
At his press conference Sunday, head coach Paul Chryst said he is unsure when Edwards will be able to play and does not know if he will partake in fall camp.
With the loss for the time being of Edwards, junior Jack Cichy and sophomore Chris Orr are expected to be the starting inside linebackers throughout fall camp with the potential to continue into the regular season.
“We knew going into the season it would be a three-man rotation,” Cichy said on Saturday. “But for the time being, it’s only two.”
Though the transition to only two proven inside linebackers will be a difficult start to fall camp, Cichy expects the process to speed up during the 11 practices before the Badgers season opener against LSU at Lambeau Field.
The Wisconsin defense as a whole will see some adjustments in 2016 under the direction of new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.
Wisconsin defensive players have stressed to the public eye that the defense appears very similar to that of previous seasons. Wilcox, as Chryst said in his press conference, has made a good transition in preparation for the upcoming season.
“He will adjust the schemes off of the players,” Chryst said, which is the same mentality he holds in creating a successful football team.
“You can expect an aggressive mentality,” Cichy said about Wilcox. “We really want to stop the run especially the first game. We really want to impose our will on the other teams.”
Orr said he hopes to personally grow into a key playmaker in his second season with the Badgers.
“We are more sound in the run,” Orr said about the changing of the guard at defensive coordinator, “and we still bring exotic blitzes.”
Outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who will be playing opposite Biegel in the spot previously held by Schobert, expects a similar scheme.
“We’re going to get after the ball,” Watt explained. “We’re going to fly to the ball. We’re going to have a lot of blitzes upfront, and we’re going to have great coverage in the back-end.”
Chryst also stated that Biegel will have a different season compared to his previous four seasons with the Badgers. Chryst expects Biegel and other veteran players to take and embrace the leadership role needed to build a strong, cohesive unit.
“Vince has played a lot of football, but now he’s going to have to have a new role,” Chryst said.
After the dynamic pairing of Schobert and Biegel in 2015, Biegel remains confident in the talent and skill of his opposite counterpart in Watt.
“I think T.J. started coming out last season as a position player and as a guy that was fun to watch as a pass rusher,” Biegel said. “He’s a big physical guy.”
In 2015, Watt recorded 8 tackles with 1.5 tackles for losses and 3 broken up passes. Going into this season, Biegel said the two linebackers are in excellent physical condition.
“From an outside linebacker standpoint,” he said. “We’re bigger than we’ve ever been, but we can still be nimble enough to get to the pass rusher.”
Watt himself said that he felt he improved most on his run defense since last season. Biegel also made some improvement in spring ball and summer training. While he admits his strength is in the pass rush, outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar worked Biegel into developing an all-encompassing game.
“Coach Tibs pulled the reigns on me this spring and really wanted me to focus on my coverage skills and me developing my full game,” Biegel said.
In this final stretch, fourth quarter as Biegel referred to it, of preparation for the 2016 season, Biegel and his teammates will work to maintain the high standard of defense that Wisconsin is known for.
“I have a lot of confidence in him,” Biegel said about Watt, “and he has a lot of confidence in me, and we’re going to continue to go out there and uphold that strong Wisconsin defense.”
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Network.