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Christian Bell-position battle-OLBs

BYU quarterback Beau Hoge loses the ball in the end zone while being chased by Badgers linebacker Christian Bell in the fourth quarter of a game in Provo, Utah, in 2017.

Leading up to the start of fall camp Aug. 1, State Journal beat writer Jason Galloway will break down the University of Wisconsin’s top five position battles for the upcoming season. Today, in Part 2, he takes a look at the Badgers’ starting outside linebacker spot opposite Zack Baun.

  • Part 1: Offensive guard
  • Part 2: Outside linebackers 
  • Part 3: No. 2 running back 
  • Part 4: Cornerback 
  • Part 5: Quarterback 

DEPARTING

  • Andrew Van Ginkel

When healthy, Van Ginkel arguably held the title as the Badgers’ best pass rusher last year. Although he didn’t miss a game, the ankle injury he sustained against BYU in Week 3 lingered throughout the season, holding him back from reaching his full potential and affecting the entire defense as a result.

Even so, the Miami Dolphins selected Van Ginkel in the fifth round of the NFL draft in April, and UW must sift through a number of candidates to become his replacement this fall.

THE FAVORITES

  • Noah Burks, Jr.
  • Izayah Green-May, So.

Burks and Green-May split first-team reps during spring practice — Burks in base packages and Green-May in nickel formations. The 6-foot-6, 223-pound Green-May possess pass-rushing potential but had the goal of continuing to gain weight this summer.

Burks hopes to improve on a sophomore season where he played sporadically due to Van Ginkel’s injury. Teammates noted this spring that Burks bulked up and looks more formidable against the run than a year ago.

IN THE RUNNING

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  • Tyler Johnson, Sr.
  • Christian Bell, Jr.

Johnson flashed in limited playing time in 2017, even forcing fumbles in back-to-back games at Illinois and Indiana. A leg injury slowed down his start to 2018, however, and he never got back on track. This marks his final chance to earn a starting spot on UW’s defense.

Bell sat out all of spring practice with an injury, so it’s difficult to know where he currently stands in the race for a starting spot. Coach Paul Chryst said Bell will be healthy for fall camp, and he could be ready to take on the major role many fans expected from him after transferring from Alabama in 2016.

Redshirt freshman Jaylan Franklin and true freshman Spencer Lytle could fight for reps during camp but currently appear to be long shots to compete for a spot atop the depth chart.

Wisconsin Badgers position battles preview: Offensive guard

DARK HORSE

  • Griffin Grady, Jr.

Grady moved from inside linebacker to outside linebacker earlier this year and didn’t work his way up the depth chart during spring practice.

A little more time at his new position could change his outlook, though. He’s shown promise thus far in his career, even playing in 12 games as a true freshman in 2016, and certainly could have competed for a two-deep spot at inside linebacker if he hadn’t made the position switch.

EXPECTATIONS

The Badgers have plenty of candidates to pair with returning starter Zack Baun this season, but none own much game experience at this point.

For years, this position group worked wonders for the Badgers before an up-and-down 2018. If a couple pop from the long list of guys behind Baun, UW could be in line to vastly improve at a key spot.

Bucky!

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