It’s late July, which means we’re approaching Big Ten Media Days and the start of fall camp for the Wisconsin Badgers football team.
The Badgers head into the 2022 season looking to improve on their 9-4 record from a year ago and are looking to return to the Big Ten Championship Game after missing out on a Big Ten West title in 2021.
After a busy off-season full of managerial changes, new hires and transfer arrivals, football is almost back. With that in mind, it’s time to preview each position group before fall camp begins.
Previously occupied positions:
Next in our fall camp preview series, to stay on the defensive side of the ball, we’re shifting our focus to the outside linebackers.
- CJ Goetz (RS SR) 6ft-3, 232lbs.
- Marty Strey (RS SR) 6-ft-2, 226 lbs.
- Nick Herbig (JR) 6-foot-2, 227 lbs.
- Kaden Johnson (RS SO) 6-foot-2, 235 lbs.
- Aaron Witt (RS SO) 6-ft-6, 254 lbs.
- Ross Gengler (RS SO) 6-foot-2, 226 lbs.
- Darryl Peterson (RS FR) 6-ft-1, 242 lbs.
- TJ Bollers (RS FR) 6-ft-2, 251 lbs.
Projected Depth Chart
Field side OLB: Nick Herbig
Border side OLB: CJ Goetz
Field side OLB: Kaden Johnson
Border side: Darryl Peterson or TJ Bollers
Returning career production
- CJ Goetz: 33 career games (one start), 28 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, three sacks
- Nick Herbig: 20 career games (20 starts), 90 tackles, 20.5 TFL, 10 sacks, three FF
- Marty Strey: 12 career games
- Kaden Johnson: nine career games. two duels
- Aaron Witt: five career games, two tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble
- Darryl Peterson: two career games, one tackle
- TJ Bollers: A Career Game
There might not be a better overall position group on the roster than Outside Linebackers heading into the 2022 season.
The positional space begins with junior Nick Herbig, who is a two-year starter and one of the best full-backs in the country. Herbig, a preseason first-team All-American according to Phil Steele, wants to build on his sophomore season in which he finished third on the team in tackles and led the team with nine sacks.
Herbig missed some time in the spring with an arm injury but took on a greater leadership role for the team. Herbig is a vocal and exciting player who is loved by his teammates. Fast and explosive, he will be one of the most important players on the entire team this season. His ability to bring down the pocket and disrupt opposing offense should not only allow for better production from him in 2022, but could also lead to more opportunities for those around him.
Herbig’s opposite was CJ Goetz for most of Spring. The Waukesha native is one of a handful of seniors looking to become a full-time first-time starter, and he’s more than capable, having filmed with Noah Burks for the past two seasons.
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While Herbig is a tremendous pass rusher and moves well in space, Goetz is strong against the run and made some nice moves in the spring when it comes to pressuring the quarterback. With Noah Burks exhausted his eligibility, it’s now Goetz’s opportunity to shine on the borderline side of defense, and the fifth-grader should be ready.
Behind these two top players, assistant coach Bobby April did a phenomenal job of building depth. The Badgers have several talented young players who have flashed at times, and it will be fun to watch the competition for game time at fall camp.
Redshirt student Kaden Johnson worked with the first-team during Herbig’s absence in the spring and appears to be realizing his potential as a former four-star recruit. Johnson’s role on the team grew last season, playing with representatives on defense and special teams in the last six games of the year. Johnson finished fall camp as the No. 2 option behind Herbig on the field side of defense, and his athleticism makes him an exciting player to watch this fall.
On the other side of the field, the Badgers have Darryl Peterson and TJ Bollers behind Goetz. The pair of redshirt rookies are hugely talented but unproven after playing sparingly a year ago. Everyone excelled in practice, including the final scrimmage of the spring where both had multiple sacks and were disruptive throughout. Heading into fall camp, it’s certain that Peterson and Bollers will play more in 2022.
A potential wild card in this group is redshirt student Aaron Witt. The Minnesota native saw snaps as a true freshman, including a stripsack against Wake Forest in the 2020 Mayo Bowl, but an injury forced him to miss all of last season and spring. According to Jeff Potrykus, Witt is no longer in a shoe, and it will be interesting to see where he is when fall camp opens. At 6-foot-6 and over 250 pounds, he has the frame and blast to be an Impact player, but that depends on his availability. If he’s healthy, he could also be pushing for playing time.
With so many talented grantees in the position, walk-ons Marty Strey and Ross Gengler will struggle to get snaps on defense but could be pushing for replays on special teams.
Young player to watch
Wisconsin has so many young but talented outside linebackers to choose from, but I’m excited to see what Darryl Peterson does at fall camp.
A former Ohio three-star edge rusher, Peterson was a significant recruiting win for the Badgers after high school. The 6-foot-1-pass rusher chose Wisconsin among others over offers from Alabama and Michigan and immediately flashed intermittents at fall camp a year ago.
Peterson saw game action against Rutgers and in the Las Vegas Bowl late last season and he played well, including a strong bull rusher that helped John Torchio intercept Jayden Daniels in the bowl game.
In the spring, Peterson was the only outside linebacker coached at both the field and border positions, potentially opening the door to an expanded role for him in 2022. Peterson’s strength and speed off the edge made him incredibly difficult to block in spring practice and he was one of the most impressive players I’ve seen in spring.
Peterson earned intermittent replays on both first- and second-team defenses in the spring, and he has the level of talent to push CJ Goetz for the starting limit role.
While I still think Herbig and Goetz will be the main starters, Peterson should be in the rotation and he could be poised for an impactful season as a pass rusher.
As mentioned above, I’m very high on Darryl Peterson and what he might bring to the outside linebacker room. I’m also high on sophomore Kaden Johnson and redshirt newcomer TJ Bollers, though.
Realistically, that begs the question of what roles will the young trio of Kaden Johnson, Darryl Peterson and TJ Bollers have this season?
Wisconsin assistant coach Bobby April has shown his willingness to rotate players at the outside linebacker to keep players fresh during a game. For example, despite only having one start, CJ Goetz added 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks behind Noah Burks. The two rotated every few series, allowing each player to stay healthy year-round and play as hard as possible when it was their turn on the field.
We could see a similar arrangement this season, as both Peterson and Bollers have proven they’re ready to contribute in the spring. Goetz is arguably Wisconsin’s top outside linebacker against the run, but Peterson and Bollers bring a level of strength and athleticism off the edge that allows them to shine as pass rushers. I think all three will see snaps on the perimeter side of the field, adding a depth to the perimeter that the Badgers haven’t had in a couple of years, if at all.
On the other hand, Nick Herbig is one of the two best players in the whole defence, so I don’t see April rotating him that much. However, Kaden Johnson’s emergence during bowl prep and the extra reps he scored this spring with Herbig’s lack of time should allow him to see the field better when Herbig needs a breather.
With Goetz entering his senior campaign in 2022 and Nick Herbig a potential early NFL draft pick with a big season, the Badgers could look to give their young group of reserves more playing time to prepare them for 2023.
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