Wisconsin Badgers beat writer Jesse Temple will be analyzing the 30 most important players to the Badgers’ success in the 2015 season. Check back each weekday to see the latest player on the list.
Note: This is not a list of the team’s 30 best players or a series about past success, but rather which of them means the most to how Wisconsin will fare this year. Criteria such as depth at that player’s position, general expectations and overall importance of that player having a good season are all highly considered. The list does not include incoming freshmen because their potential impact is unknown at this time.
No. 16 — Leon Jacobs, inside linebacker
Why he’s No. 16
Jacobs is a junior now, and his role on the defense is expected to significantly increase. Marcus Trotter and Derek Landisch — senior leaders who finished second and third on the team in total tackles — are both gone. Now, it will be up to Jacobs and T.J. Edwards to solidify the middle linebacker spots. Judging by what both players did during spring practice, Badgers fans should feel a sense of ease about the transition.
Jacobs has played in all of the team’s 27 games the past two seasons, so he has the experience. During the team’s spring game, he finished with eight tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
Expectations for 2015
It doesn’t seem like a huge stretch to suggest Jacobs could challenge for 100 tackles this season. Consider that Marcus Trotter finished with 93 and Landisch tallied 86 a year ago. Now consider that, in Jacobs’ only start last season against Illinois, he recorded a career-high 12 tackles with 2.0 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. At this point, it appears all he needs is an opportunity.
Jacobs’ inside linebacker mate, Edwards, said Jacobs "has a great knack of formation recognition" and can call out what will develop before the play. That element is essential for any good linebacker, and it’s something Chris Borland and Trotter both had the past two seasons. Jacobs should be the next in line to continue that trend.
What would they do without him?
Depth issues at inside linebacker remain a significant concern for the coaching staff. Keelon Brookins has moved around the defense at safety and outside linebacker, but he was rounding into a key reserve at inside linebacker before he missed time the final week of practice with an injury. D’Cota Dixon also could become a significant contributor when he returns this fall from a shoulder injury he sustained last season. Other players in the mix at inside linebacker are Ty DeForest and Nick Thomas.