No. 3 – Linebacker
Projected depth chart
1. Zack Baun
2. Noah Burks
1. Tyler Johnson
2. Christian Bell
Others in the mix: Izayah Green-May, Griffin Grady, Spencer Lytle
2. Seth Currens
2. Mike Maskalunas
Others in the mix: Leo Chenal
What to watch for
As of now, two of the four starting linebacker spots seem set in stone with Zack Baun on the outside and Chris Orr on the inside. The two seniors each look poised for breakout seasons if they can stay healthy. Behind Baun and Orr, the remaining spots in the rotation are largely up for grabs, with potentially ten players all vying for snaps.
Heading into the spring, the top contenders to start opposite Baun on the outside appear to be Tyler Johnson and Christian Bell, who both saw plenty of meaningful snaps in reserve roles last season. Johnson may have the leg up on Bell early on now that the Alabama transfer will likely miss the duration of spring practice as he continues to recover from an injury he received during bowl prep in December. Johnson played in ten games with two starts at outside linebacker last season, while Bell played in nine games.
That being said, look for guys like Noah Burks, Izayah Green-May and Griffin Grady (who is moving from ILB to OLB) to state their cases for significant roles this season throughout the spring and give the coaching staff something to think about heading into the fall. Burks and Grady have seen meaningful, albeit limited, action to this point in their careers, while Green-May has only taken a handful of snaps in mop-up duty, but the 6’6 sophomore has big-time potential.
In addition, keep an eye on true freshman Spencer Lytle to contend for a role this spring: the California native may be inexperienced, but he comes from one of the top prep programs in the nation in St. John Bosco and has been on campus for a few months now as an early enrollee.
The depth at the inside spots is a little iffier than on the outside. Orr has proven himself to be a rock-solid player, but behind him is a group of largely unproven, though talented, players. The second starting spot next to the senior will almost certainly come down to who wins a fierce battle between Jack Sanborn and Mike Maskalunas. Those two guys will definitely duke it out over the coming weeks, but I’d give Sanborn a bit of a lead heading into the spring, as he had an excellent true freshman season in 2018, playing in all 11 games and flashing a very bright future. Maskalunas saw plenty of action himself, seeing meaningful snaps in 9 games.
The trio of Orr, Sanborn, and Maskalunas seem pretty far ahead of the rest of the pack as things stand now and should see the most snaps out of the inside linebacker group. However, who will fill step up and fill the depth chart behind them?
At this point, I would give true freshman Leo Chenal a great shot at securing that fourth spot on the two-deep. The Grantsburg, WI native is clearly physically ready to play at this level and is on campus as an early enrollee. I would expect him to begin making his case for a role similar to the one Sanborn had last season this spring.
Keep a close eye on how Seth Currens looks throughout practices as well. The junior is transitioning to inside linebacker from safety, but given the relative lack of depth as things look now, Wisconsin will could need him to learn his new position quickly.