The long wait is over, as the Wisconsin Badgers will have their third defensive coordinator in as many years. it’s a name very familiar to long-time Badgers fans and to those who are more recent to the fold — Jim Leonhard.
On Thursday, head coach Paul Chryst made the announcement public.
It certainly is a bold move for the third-year head coach, as Leonhard has just one season as the defensive backs coach at Wisconsin on his coaching resume. However, that clearly didn’t scare him off.
“To me, for a coordinator, there has to be certainly a football knowledge level,” Chryst said, via UWBadgers.com. “Jimmy has far more than just a one-year level of coaching knowledge; X’s and O’s, scheme knowledge. In fact, I think he has got great football schematic knowledge.
He could’ve easily gone the more experienced route with an internal hire, making outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar the choice. Instead, Chryst appears to have gone with his gut instinct and went for the coach with the big upside.
So, what could Chryst have seen after only one season on the job?
Perhaps it was the performance of Wisconsin’s secondary in his one year that turned Chryst on to giving Leonhard more responsibility on the defensive side of the football. After all, the Badgers pulled down 22 interceptions, a total that ranked second in the FBS and marked UW’s highest output since 2002, when Leonhard grabbed a school-record 11 of UW’s 22 picks.
Wisconsin’s 22 interceptions came nearly out of nowhere, especially for a group that was turning over three of the four starting positions and was filled with youth and inexperience. Instead of being a handicap, the secondaries ability to play one-on-one coverage and succeed allowed the rest of the defense to be more free as well.
Leonhard’s skill set as a coach helped transform players like Leo Musso and D’Cota Dixon in to one of the best safety tandems in the Big Ten. Musso led the team with five interceptions, while Dixon became a hard-hitting safety with a nose for the football as well.
Senior cornerback Sojourn Shelton also returned to the form that saw him earn freshman All-American honors four years ago. That form had him named first team All-Big Ten this year.
While all of that is nice, it was just one season some will point out. Very true, but his ability to quickly transfer his own skill set and knowledge to the players he was coaching was invaluable last year.
He’s shown a clear knack for getting his players to buy in to what he is saying and is a natural recruiter.
Leonhard’s hire also means that Wisconsin has ex-players as head coach and both offensive and defensive coordinator positions on the staff. Few in the country can claim that.
As for what this defense will look like under a player most remember as a monster in Alvarez’s 4-3 looks — don’t expect much change from what you see today according to Leonhard.
“That’s who we are,” Leonhard said of the 3-4 defense. “I love the flexibility in it. That’s what I played in during my career. I see the value in starting there and building your defense out of that. I’m excited to see what as a staff we decide to clean up a little bit or change.
“Like I said, we can roll out the same thing we did last year and have a lot of success. A lot of it will look very similar to people who don’t know. But I’m going to make it my own in some ways. And I’m going to make sure the players understand it and take ownership.”
Time will tell if this gamble pays off, but the early returns on him as a coach clearly show he has the confidence and knowledge to get his players to perform at a very high level.
Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers ILB’s in 2019
We hope you enjoyed the Independence Day holiday, but it is time to get back to some business and that means continuing our series looking in to every position group for the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers.
Since we went outside the last time around, today we will focus on a position that has long been a strength of the Badgers program — inside linebacker.
What could happen with this group in 2019? Let’s find out.
Best Case Scenario
Yes, the Badgers face life without an All-American and a steady veteran thanks to the graduations of T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly. But, the good news is that this group was one of the deepest and most productive overall last season.
Veteran Chris Orr will get one starting spot and former 4-star recruit Jack Sanborn will step in to the other starting role. So, the best case scenario for this group is that Orr, who started as a freshman, gets back to that kind of form, and we see quality play from a combination of younger players like Sanborn and freshman Leo Chenal.
No one had a bigger breakout this spring than Chenal did. He came in as an early enrollee, but well under the radar. By the end of spring ball, it looked very much like he won’t be redshirting and will be challenging for a lot of snaps in the fall.
It would be great to see that happen, because Orr has just one year left in the Cardinal and White.
Worst Case Scenario
What would really hurt this group is if Orr or Sanborn were to go down with an injury here. Yes, Chenal looked good in spring ball like I mentioned before and yes Mike Maskalunas has shown flashes of ability, but are they really ready to be thrust in to the majority of snaps at inside linebacker together?
Experience is an issue for this group and I could see an injury exposing that lack of experience in a big way. Even if the Badgers wanted to go with an older player, the only other option would be Seth Currens and he just converted from safety in the spring himself.
Other than that it would be Hunter Johnson or two walk-ons that were here in the spring.
The Badgers only inside linebacker recruit in the 2019 class was Chenal too, so there will be no more help coming in to fall camp.
Most Likely to Happen
The good news is that I don’t see the worst case scenario actually happening, at least not in a major way. Orr’s medical history suggests he could be prone to missing a game or two with a nagging injury, but don’t expect anything crazy to happen.
I also believe we will see the emergence of Sanborn and Chenal as the future of this position for the Badgers. In fact, Sanborn has looked so good in spring and in his limited playing time last season, that I suspect he could be a darkhorse for All-Big Ten honors at season’s end.
Look for this group to be a downhill, hard-hitting and more athletic group than we saw last season and that could make a major difference for those playing behind them.
Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and his staff have a lot to figure out, but they should feel safe with the talent that is available to them at inside linebacker.
Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers OLB’s in 2019
This time next month, the pads may be popping and the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers fall practices will be under way. It’s so close we all can almost taste it.
But, as we look forward to the 2019 season we’re going to try something a bit different. Gone are the usual ways of looking position groups and giving you a fall preview that last’s a week.
Well, that’s because this season is vital to the Paul Chryst era. There’s a changing of the guard going on. After a disappointing 2018 season that saw UW drop Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time in 15 years and not win the Big Ten West, the question is if that’s a sign of decline or a blip on the radar.
In order to best answer that question, we’re actually going to start with a look at what needs to happen, what the Badgers need to avoid and what is really likely at every position.
Up today is a look at the outside linebacker position.
Best Case Scenario:
Last year, the outside linebackers contributed just 8 total sacks to a team total of 19. That’s a lot of contribution to the effort, but the effort was far below expectations set by previous groups. Additionally, the graduation of Andrew Van Ginkel means just 2.5 sacks return from the outside linebacker position in 2019.
Those sacks belong to Zack Baun, who got his feet wet as a starter last season and is looking for big things to happen in 2019. The good news is that Baun was one of Wisconsin’s best run-stoppers on the edge.
Ideally, Baun not only is a leader of this defensive group in 2019, but becomes much more disruptive behind the line of scrimmage too.
Wisconsin has a lot of potential that could start opposite of him. Former Alabama transfer Christian Bell, former 4-star recruit Noah Burks and former inside linebacker Griffin Grady all had their moments of shine in spring ball.
In a best case scenario, the Badgers have more than one of that group step up as contributors to an overall group of outside linebackers that don’t have a lot of in-game experience or depth.
Getting this group to contribute double-digit sacks as a whole would be a great step forward.
Worst Case Scenario:
Noah Burks or Christian Bell don’t live up to their enormous potential. It’s as plain and simple as that.
Wisconsin needs them to become pass-rushing specialists in a big way if this defense is going to be as aggressive as it is designed to be. Often times last season, the inability of the front seven to get pressure really hung an inexperienced secondary out to dry.
If UW experiences more of that, it could really be trouble in 2019. The Badgers need this defense to step up its game, and having both of the expected top contenders in replacing Van Ginkel flame out would be a disaster all the way around.
Most Likely to Happen:
Given all the unknowns surrounding the outside linebacker position, this is a difficult position to predict. However, I will say this — Zack Baun will end up as an All-Big Ten performer.
I believe he just scratched the surface of his potential last year, especially since he was just coming off an awful injury history prior to it. If he stays healthy in 2019, I predict he becomes a surprise player to many outside observers in the Big Ten.
That said, I also believe we will see Christian Bell and Noah Burks become a handful for opposing offensive coordinators to deal with. Both have been patient with the talent that was in front of them, but they are bursting with potential when they have seen the field.
So, to answer the question most want to know…I believe this all signals a position group ready to be a major force once again after that down year in 2018.
Best, Worst case scenarios for Badgers Wide Receivers in 2019
The heat of summer is upon us and the recruiting trail has been even hotter for the Wisconsin Badgers. However, that heat also indicates that the long offseason nightmare is about to be over.
With that in mind, we’re taking a summer-long look at each position group heading in to the 2019 season.
Today, we flip back to the offensive side of the ball and look at a second skill position — wide receiver.
After what was supposed to be a breakout year for the group in 2018, what will this group have in store for 2019? Let’s look at the best and worst case scenarios at play.
Best Case Scenario
If the Badgers want to get going in the pass game, the wide receiver group needs to step up the deep game in a big way. While A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor have proven to be reliable assets, 2018 felt much like they all barely scratched the surface of their potential.
The trio combined for 95 receptions (which was 53 percent of all receptions as a team), 1,212 yards and 11 of 19 touchdown receptions on the year.
For this season, the best case scenario actually involves the quarterback position almost more-so than anything this group can do. The receivers could benefit from a consistently good passer at quarterback and a more open playbook as well.
Whether it is Jack Coan or wonderkid recruit, Graham Mertz, the consistency and trust to open up the playbook needs to be there.
Additionally, an increased role for speedster Aaron Cruickshank would be the best case scenario.
Worst Case Scenario
Danny Davis emerged as the most targeted receiver last season, catching 40 passes to lead all wide receivers on the team. He will enter his junior season with an increase in expectations and no off-field distractions like he had to deal with last season thanks to his stupid decision-making.
That aside, Davis is the most well-rounded receiver in this group and the one that could wind up be the deep threat that has been missing for awhile now. So, any injury to Davis would be bad news.
In fact, any sustained injuries to the likes of Davis, Pryor and Taylor would not be good. UW is very inexperienced behind this trio, and inexperience at QB and WR may not be a fun combination.
Dare I say, it would lead to UW not being back on top of the West division mountain?
Most Likely to Happen
I fully believe that the coaching staff will go in to the season knowing which quarterback they’ll go with and stick with. Confidence is key to helping this wide receiver group and I expect the Badgers offense to be much more balanced in 2019 than it was over the past two seasons.
Look for Davis, Pryor and Taylor to all increase their overall numbers and likely go over the 15 touchdown mark as a group. More importantly, I expect much more play-action and much more from the deep passing game too. That should be music to a talented, but under used group’s ears.
Don’t be surprised to see one of the Badgers wide receivers make a run at All-Big Ten honors as a result of that shift back to balance.
Hill is Badgers QB in 2021 class
With all the flurry of activity around the 2020 class, apparently someone wanted to bring the 2021 class some attention on Tuesday as well.
Following back-to-back linebacker commitments in the 2020 class, Wisconsin picked up a verbal commitment from 2021 quarterback Deacon Hill.
The 3-star player out of Santa Barbara, Calif. went with his gut despite the potential to earn offers from the likes of USC, Oregon and Oregon State — all much closer to home.
Instead, Hill chose the Badgers over official offers from Kansas State and Nevada to date.
The 6-3, 225-pound quarterback was first offered by Wisconsin quarterback coach Jon Budmayr in May. It was the first overall offer Hill received in the 2021 class.
Wisconsin was able to get out in front of the 2021 quarterback class after a pair of big targets in 2020 passed on offers from the Badgers. Once that happened, the focus turned to the next class and it paid off in building a quick and solid relationship with Hill.
It may not be a big home run get like Graham Mertz was, but then again the Badgers were hip to Mertz before most of the country was and that paid off as he developed.
Hill is much more physically imposing than most quarterbacks entering their junior season would be, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have mobility either.
Nevada’s more spread-orientated offense and Kansas State’s quarterbacks are certainly going to be mobile ones in the new offense that is being installed.
As for Hill, the 247Sports composite rankings have him as the No. 30 ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2021 class. But, given the small amount of attention paid to that class so far we’ll see where that ends up should Hill hit the QB camp circuit in the coming months and year.
UW will only be taking one quarterback in this class, so they certainly trusted their early evaluation of the tool set that Hill possesses and could posses by the time he is finished at Wisconsin.
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