The Wisconsin Badgers officially concluded spring camp, and now head into the summer months preparing for the fall.
While spring football is generally a time for self-improvement and overall development, the 15 extra practices also provide players the opportunity to step up and show the coaching staff that they warrant playing time come fall.
While the Badgers were confined to the McClain Center with ongoing renovations to Camp Randall, the defense under Jim Leonhard was flying around and making plays.
Over the next two weeks, All Badgers will take a position-by-position look at some of the general takeaways from the spring and what it could mean for each position group come fall.
Previously covered positions:
Today we keep things on the defensive side of the ball and focus on the outside linebackers.
This spring, there may not have been a more impressive position group than the outside linebackers.
Even with a returning starter like Nick Herbig limited to mostly individual work as a precautionary measure, Bobby April's outside linebacker room shined.
Herbig should to take another big leap next season, and he stepped up as a vocal leader this spring after finishing third on the team in tackles a year ago (64 total) and leading the team in sacks with nine. The native of Hawaii is one of the best players on the entire team, and he is a key part of Jim Leonhard's defense in 2022.
Opposite Herbig is likely senior CJ Goetz. The Waukesha (Wis.) product was a steady performer this spring, and he proved to be the best outside linebacker against the run. Goetz played in all 13 games last season and has been a rotational player the past two seasons for the Badgers. He will look to surpass his total of two sacks last season and will have every chance to do so if he is indeed a starter as expected.
The depth behind Herbig and Goetz stole the show this spring though.
Kaden Johnson received the most reps with the first team in place of Herbig, and the sophomore from Minnesota flashed at times. As a former four-star recruit, Johnson has primarily played special teams so far, but he should give the Badgers another solid option in the rotation next year. His athletic ability particularly jumped out to me this spring.
While the trio of Herbig, Goetz, and Johnson all looked good this spring, the two redshirt freshmen behind them were the players that made the most noise.
I included Darryl Peterson and TJ Bollers on my defensive stock risers from the spring, and honestly, I believe they were two of the more impressive individuals on the entire team in the practices I saw.
Peterson was the only outside linebacker to work at both of the outside linebacker positions (field side and boundary) this spring, and I think he is ready to be a major contributor next season. At 6-foot-1 and weighing 242 pounds, Peterson is incredibly quick off the ball, and he used his speed and strength off the edge to make life hard on Wisconsin's offensive line all spring long. The second-team offensive line had no answer for him in the several practices I was in attendance. Peterson simply lived in the backfield. He earned reps with the second and first-team defense, and I am excited to see what he can do with more snaps in 2022. He flashed last year in fall camp, but he looked even better this spring.
Fellow freshman TJ Bollers also caused chaos throughout the spring. He slimmed down this off-season, and that improved his speed immensely. Bollers is a bit bigger than Peterson at 6-foot-2 and just over 250 pounds, but his strength and ability to bend really stood out. In the final practice of the spring, I counted at least four sacks for Bollers against primarily the second-team offense.
Both Peterson and Bollers came to Wisconsin with a lot of fanfare after turning down offers from Alabama and others in favor of the Badgers. Based on the 15 practices available in spring ball, they are starting to live up to their potential. Expect the young duo to see the field as pass rushers this year.
Aaron Witt had a setback this spring and did not participate due to a nagging leg injury, but he is another capable playmaker when he returns. Hopefully, he will be available this fall. Witt made some big plays as a true freshman, including a strip sack against Wake Forest in the 2020 bowl game.
With Goetz being the only senior outside linebacker on the roster, Bobby April and the Badgers have built tremendous depth at the position. Young players such as Kaden Johnson, Darryl Peterson, and TJ Bollers are still relatively unproven in Big Ten play, but they are ready to help out based this spring.
Expect Wisconsin to utilize a rotation to keep outside linebackers fresh, and I wouldn't be shocked to see some packages where there are three outside linebackers on the field in pass-rushing situations from time to time.
Projected depth chart:
OLB: Nick Herbig (JR), Kaden Johnson (RS SO) or Darryl Peterson (RS FR)
OLB: CJ Goetz (RS SR), Darryl Peterson (RS FR) or TJ Bollers (RS FR)
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