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Wisconsin Football Outside Linebacker Room Season Outlook & Player Expectations

A quick look at the Wisconsin football outside linebacker room heading into fall camp and analyzing their individual expectations for the season.

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Wisconsin Badgers football outside linebackers Darryl Peterson and Kaden Johnson
Nov 12, 2022; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Darryl Peterson (right) reacts with linebacker Kaden Johnson (52) after a defensive stop during the first quarter against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

With fall camp just around the corner for new head coach Luke Fickell and the Wisconsin football program — BadgerNotes continues our rollout of position previews. We’ve already done QB, RB, WR, TE, OL, and DL thus far. 

But I want our position previews and season outlook write-ups to be different than a regurgitated version of what every outlet is putting out. 

I want to approach this breakdown by establishing individual player expectations heading into the season so we can more effectively evaluate each player at the end of the season—that way, we can avoid being a prisoner of the moment. 

So, let’s review the breakdown of how we define player expectations:

  • No expectations (walk-ons, true freshmen, practice bodies).
  • Low expectations (roster fillers, third team players, next man up situation).
  • Moderate expectations (key backups & role players *how well are you playing the role asked of you).
  • High expectations (core players of the team you expect to make a big impact in their role or statistically). 

Let’s continue our series with the Wisconsin football outside linebackers. 

High Expectations 

  • Darryl Peterson (RS SO)
  • C.J. Goetz (RS SR)

I’m placing Darryl Peterson and C.J. Goetz in the high-expectations group for the Badgers this season. This high-expectations declaration concerns their current status as preferred starters — and their opportunity to make an impact — more than projected statistical output.

Without Nick Herbig, UW has a gaping hole to fill in terms of production. This is the first time in years that there hasn’t been an heir to the throne you felt good about leading the position group.

Let’s start with Peterson because he has the best chance to give the Badgers a pass-rusher that teams might have to gameplan for. Last season, he was the No. 3 outside linebacker and played 331 snaps.

Peterson played in all 13 games, starting three, and totaled 29 tackles, 11 pressures, 2.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks, and a fumble recovery. He finished with an uninspiring 6.7% pass-rush win percentage, which was 13th on the Wisconsin football team. Per PFF, Peterson ended with a 64.1 grade (slightly above average) as a pass-rusher.

There’s no denying that 6-foot-1, 245-pound OLB has the highest upside in the outside linebacker room, but that needs to translate onto the field next season because the Badgers need someone who can apply pressure and get after the QB. His worth ethic suggests it’s within the realm of possibility, but he’s someone who needs to step up as a redshirt sophomore.

Then on the opposite side, you’ve got Goetz, who’s returning for a sixth and final season in Madison.

Last year he finished with 62 tackles, 16 pressures, two sacks, and two pass deflections. His 16 pressures were good for fifth on the Badgers’ defense, and it’s also worth noting that he played the best ball of his career in the second half of the season.

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound OLB has the second-highest PFF grade on the Wisconsin football defense among returning players (74.5) and is the most experienced pass-rusher on the team, having logged 883 career snaps.

Goetz is one of the Badgers’ top run defenders and tacklers in the front seven, and although he’s not known for his pass-rushing ability, his presence will help provide stability to an otherwise unproven room of OLBs. He’s a steady option that a defense in transition can depend on.

To meet expectations, someone needs to elevate their play from a season ago, and I’m betting on Peterson. If they can continue being positive influences in defending the run game and provide a halfway decent pass rush, that’s a win in my eyes.

Wisconsin Football OLBs With Moderate Expectations

  • T.J. Bollers (RS SO)
  • Kaden Johnson (RS JR)
  • Jeff Pietrowski (RS JR)

I’m lumping T.J. Bollers, Kaden Johnson, and Michigan State transfer Jeff Pietrowski in the moderate expectations group because they will all likely play a role and see meaningful snaps this season. 

Johnson and Bollers were both high-pedigree prospects coming out of high school. However, they have yet to turn that into production. 

Johnson also gained some valuable experience, playing 177 snaps last season behind Nick Herbig. He finished with 21 tackles and six pressures and flashed the athleticism necessary to make an impact if the Minnesota native puts it all together. He’s still a work in progress who is in danger of getting surpassed if it doesn’t click soon. 

Bollers has been asked to play a tweener position and might finally be coming into his own after some encouraging reports from spring practice. Last season he appeared in five games and saw just 28 snaps. However, he’s almost assuredly going to play a role in the two-deep and offers a unique blend of size and strength on the outside that Mike Tressel can get creative with. He’s one of the players I’m most excited to see this fall. 

Finally, we’ve got Pietrowski, a former defensive end that transferred into the Wisconsin football program during the offseason. 

The 6-foot-1, 250-pound defensive lineman has 23 games of experience under his belt but appeared in only three games this past season because of a lower-leg injury he suffered in September. 

In 2021, Pietrowski registered 33 tackles, 24 pressures, 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Per PFF, he earned a 78.7 defensive grade as a run-stopper, which for reference, would have been the highest among Badgers DL in 2022. He should be a solid but unspectacular depth piece this fall that will become even more valuable if the higher upside options fail to make a jump in their development. 

To meet expectations, these need to be useful in their assigned roles and take a noticeable step forward — hopefully pushing for starting roles. The outside linebacker room is thinner than it’s been in years, so it would be encouraging to hear some positive reports about these toolsy linebackers putting it together. Otherwise, this might be a position of need next offseason. 

Wisconsin Football OLBs With Low Expectations

  • Marty Strey (RS SR)

In this low-expectations group, I will put redshirt senior Marty Strey from Sun Prarie, Wisconsin.

I won’t go into any deep analysis of Strey, but he could be the third-team outside linebacker — so by the definitions I’ve set — this is where he belongs. There were some nice reports about his play during spring practice, but it’s unlikely he’ll see the field in any meaningful capacity.

To meet expectations, he needs to stay healthy and be a player that provides depth behind the top five linebackers expected to see the field in 2023.

No Expectations 

  • Aaron Witt (RS JR)
  • Ross Gengler (RS JR)
  • Jordan Mayer (FR)

Finally, I’ve got Aaron Witt, Ross Gengler, and true freshman Jordan Mayer in the no-expectations group. 

Wisconsin football fans are obsessed with what Witt did in the legendary Dukes Mayo Bowl in 2020, but injuries have kept him off the field ever since. If he can get healthy, perhaps something is left in the tank. At one point, I felt he had NFL upside, but we can’t expect anything of him until he can get back to health. 

Gengler should continue to see time on special teams, and Mayer is a really nice pass-rushing outside linebacker prospect to develop for the future. He caught my eye on a sack where he beat Barrett Nelson during The Launch. Mayer is one to watch for the future.  

To meet expectations, this group needs to focus on the weight room, learning the playbook, and continued development.


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Dillon Graff is a Substack Newsletter Best Selling Author and the Owner of BadgerNotes.com, your go-to source for in-depth coverage of the Wisconsin Badgers. His work has been featured in top media publications like USA Today, Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, B5Q, Saturday Blitz, and Fansided.

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