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July 9, 2014

Badger Watch 2: Linebackers

With summer camp complete and more commitments in place, Wisconsin has a better idea of what its 2015 recruiting class will look like. Over the next two weeks, BadgerBlitz.com will reanalyze UW's recruiting efforts with a position-by-position breakdown of targets to see how the Badgers will fill their 2015 cycle.


1. Last update: Badger Watch: Linebackers (5/2/14)

2. What's happened since April?

Quite a bit has happened since April, as Wisconsin landed three commitments at linebacker -- four if you pencil in Nate Howard, who could play a few spots when he arrives on campus.

Projected inside backers Nick Thomas and Chris Orr weren't high-profile guys on the recruiting front, but the staff identified them early and were able to lock up quick commitments.

Thomas, a 6-foot-1, 218-pound senior from IMG Academy in Florida, was offered by Wisconsin in late May and committed after an unofficial visit in June. He plans to enroll early at UW in order to participate in spring camp.

"The atmosphere about it being a college town is great and really unique," Thomas told BadgerBlitz.com. "The facilities are great and all updated but at the same time, the campus has a tradition and historic background. The fans and students are crazy. Right when I arrived, everyone was wearing Wisconsin gear and that was pretty exciting.

"That was what I was hoping for, to get my decision out of the way before my senior year. I wanted it to be towards the end of the summer but this is a lot better because I'll get to have my whole summer to focus on my team."

Wisconsin was Thomas' lone offer but he was also receiving interest from Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas, Duke and Virginia, among others.

Just two days after Thomas joined the Badgers' 2015 class, Orr, a 6-foot, 207-pound two-star prospect, followed suit during an unofficial visit that ended on June 14.

"The family feel and the family atmosphere being so far away from home made Wisconsin the right place," Orr told BadgerBlitz.com. "The opportunity to come in and play early was also really important for me.

"I would say the true size of the stadium really stood out. I knew that it was 85,000, but that's a huge stadium and it will be a great place to play. I'm just happy to get a chance to play at Wisconsin and I'm really excited."

Like Thomas, Orr was lightly recruited with offers from Nevada and North Texas, but he was also receiving strong interest from Arkansas, Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma State. Orr is the son of nine-year NFL veteran tight end Terry Orr and the younger brother of current Baltimore Ravens linebacker Zach Orr. Nick Orr, his older brother, is also a true freshman defensive back at TCU.

With two pledges on the inside, the staff turned its focus to the outside and landed three-star prospect Mohamed Barry, who also committed just after his official visit.

"I just went with my heart and my mom was high on Wisconsin from the start," Barry told BadgerBlitz.com. "The family side of things all favored Wisconsin, so that was a big factor. I just see an opportunity at Wisconsin and there's no place like it. It was everything that I wanted it to be.

"Wisconsin was in constant contact with me and my mom, we were calling them all the time. I felt like coach (Thomas) Brown was all over me and kept on top of my academics. He just didn't ask me about them, he went and made sure to look for himself and that meant a lot to me. My mom really liked coach Brown and thought he was a hell of a person."

The Georgia standout chose UW over offers from Syracuse, North Carolina State, UCF, South Florida and Wake Forest, among others.

Since the last update, Cameron Smith (USC), Darrin Kirkland Jr. (Michigan), Juwan Taylor (Georgia), Josh Barajas (Notre Dame), Richard Moore (Texas A&M), Omari Stringer (Indiana), Manny Bowen (Penn State) and Carson Lydon (Virginia Tech) all committed to other schools while holding an offer from Wisconsin. Anthony McKee recently included the Badgers in his top 10 but Oklahoma, Michigan State and Kentucky are currently out in front. Four-star Porter Gustin also appears to be a long shot at the point.

3. What happens next?

Despite three pledges, there's still a good deal of activity going on at linebacker. Backtracking a bit, three-star Kyler Manu "escaped" -- escaped because he was the only unofficial visitor in mid-June to leave without committing -- his trip in June without flipping his pledge from Boise State to Wisconsin. He's gone quiet since but is now strongly considering the Badgers.

While Manu's future is still up in the air, it appears only a matter of time before the staff adds their final piece at inside linebacker. Jordan Griffin, who visited unofficially in June, is now considered a heavy lean towards Wisconsin and already has an official visit scheduled for November.

"Wisconsin is at the top. They are definitely my leader right now," Griffin told BadgerBlitz.com. "I went in wanting to see what it was all about and now I want my parents to be able to see what the Wisconsin experience is like and we'll go from there.

"I spent most of my day with coach (Dave) Aranda and we talked about being able to play early as a freshman due to the amount of depth they have at the position. That was great to hear that I'll have an opportunity to contribute right away."

With Griffin penciled into this class, the focus turns to the outside where a number of interesting options are still available. Atop that list is Dominic Sheppard, who put Wisconsin above some heavy hitters in a recent update with Rivals.com.

"My top teams, in order, are Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Stanford, Alabama, Miami, Ohio State, Tennessee and Clemson," said Sheppard, who will visit officially with teammate Antonyo Sotolongo on Oct. 24.

Staying in Florida, Brandon Wilson also has the Badgers on top in his recruitment, though the 6-foot-3, 236-pound prospect could very well grow into an end at the college of his choice.

"They're (UW) a Big Ten school and I think they're third or fourth in the Big Ten," Wilson told Rivals.com. "And they've been consistent these past years and they're also recruiting me at outside linebacker, which is where I want to play in college."

Wilson plans on visiting Wisconsin for the first time in late July and remains in constant contact with the coaching staff.

Rounding things out, the staff is also hoping to get an official visit from four-star Jahvoni Simmons, who has Wisconsin in his top 10. The same holds true for fellow four-star Osa Masina, who has UW in his top eight with another cut coming in the near future. Christian Folau, despite his pledge to Stanford, is also still being recruited by the Badgers.

Finally, Wisconsin is still hanging around in the race for Tyriq Thompson, who was offered last summer. Getting the three-star prospect out of Michigan, though, may prove to be too tall of a task.

4. Class Prediction:

Orr, Thomas and Griffin all appear to be relatively safe bets on the inside. Bumping over, Barry is in the mix and I think Wisconsin will be able to win over Manu. Of the big-time prospects still available, Sheppard appears to be the most realistic option and the staff would make room for him regardless of numbers. I'll go with those six players as my summer prediction.

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