Going into Friday's media day at Camp Randall Stadium we thought we knew it all about the linebacker position group at Wisconsin, but everyone was proven wrong as head coach Gary Andersen announced the move of senior linebacker Ethan Armstrong from inside linebacker to the field side linebacker (F-Linebacker) spot in the new 3-4 scheme.
"Ethan will be playing the F-linebacker, which is the field side linebacker, so he'll jump in head first and be ready to go," said head coach Gary Andersen at Friday's media day. "Sounds like from the training reports he's ready and, if you will, put back together again. Here we go with Ethan, exciting to have him. I know he's excited to play and compete."
It's a move designed to do what Andersen has set as the tone for this team - getting the best 11 players on the field and getting them in a position to make the team and themselves a success.
"Spring was a situation where we were playing shorthanded," said defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. "When we got everybody back and looked at the strength and weaknesses... How can we get our best 11 on the field?"
"The answer was real apparent with Ethan, to move him out there (F-Linebacker). Not only with what he can accomplish in space and set the edge in run defense, but also the development of Derek Landish and Connor O'Neill."
Aranda noted that both had great springs and he feels that they've deserved the opportunity to compete for the other inside linebacker spot opposite of Chris Borland.
Armstrong had a hunch following spring practice that this move could be coming for him.
"This move we kind of figured maybe could be coming all spring," said Armstrong. "We're going to play you where we need you. We're going to use you to plug a hole on this defense that we need you to fill. They weren't sure where that was going to be and they let some players develop and see where that panned out and they decided to put me at outside linebacker."
What exactly goes into playing the F-Linebacker spot in this defense? Andersen gave us a big clue and also answered why he's got confidence in Armstrong making this move.
"To be a really good F-linebacker, he's got to play in space, he's got to play on the end line of scrimmage, he's got to be a quick thinking kid that can react," said Andersen. "[Armstrong's] been in a lot of games, and he can do that, and I think he's a very good tackler. So those are the biggest reasons for moving him out there."
One of the things that could really help a player like Armstrong is the fact that linebacker is such a deep position group at Wisconsin and has been throughout the time he has been at Wisconsin. He mentioned learning from guys like Mike Taylor and Blake Sorensen and being able to take that and help not only himself, but some of the younger guys.
Armstrong isn't taking the move as a given either, noting that the players behind him can provide some great competition and he sees a few as starting caliber players.
"I think both position groups (outside and inside linebacker) are very deep," said Armstrong. "You know, we've got a lot of young talented kids that may not have all the game experience, but they have all the athletic ability and knowledge to have success at the those spots."
"We've got three guys behind me that could all potentially start at this position. There's a lot of competition, but there's a lot of friendly helping each other out. It's a really good atmosphere and it's a really good group of kids."
That's all the more motivation to learn quickly and continue to improve. It also helped that he has been participating in full activities since the beginning of May and his time away from the field in spring practice was more precautionary than anything else.
"I'm definitely ready to just get on the field with this staff," said Armstrong. "it's been a long offseason for me and I'm just anxious to get going."
Clearly Armstrong, Aranda, and Andersen all have big expectations of the new F-Linebacker and his role could be one of the bigger ones in this defense given the position's need to be a jack of all trades type of linebacker. Only time will tell if this move works out, but the faith the coaches have in him without seeing him on the field in action speaks volumes for a player who's ready to get going and get going now.
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