UW vs. South Dakota, Conor O'Neill, Derek Landisch

Wisconsin linebackers Conor O'Neill (13), left, and Derek Landisch (30) collide with South Dakota Coyotes running back Chris Ganious in Wisconsin's 59-10 win at Camp Randall Stadium.

M.P. KING — State Journal

In a preseason camp filled with moving parts at linebacker, sophomore Derek Landisch has been a rare constant.

He's one of the few University of Wisconsin linebackers to remain healthy throughout camp or not be limited due to past surgeries.

Even though Landisch is second on the depth chart behind senior Mike Taylor on the weak side, linebackers coach Andy Buh considers him a starter.

In fact, when asked recently if Landisch was the team's fourth linebacker, Buh didn't stop there.

"I think he's the third or fourth guy right now," Buh said. "I wouldn't say he's fourth. I wouldn't say he's solidly the third, but he's pretty close to it. We're pretty happy with Landisch right now."

That doesn't mean Buh is looking to juggle the starters. Junior Chris Borland is in the middle and he definitely isn't going anywhere.

"I've had a chance to coach a couple good ones in there (at mike)," Buh said of Borland. "He's by far the best I've been able to work with. No disrespect to the guys I've coached; they would understand what I'm saying."

Taylor is also entrenched as the will, which leaves junior Ethan Armstrong as the sam. The coaches have been happy with Armstrong, too, and he was rewarded with a scholarship during camp.

For now, that means Landisch, from Hartland Arrowhead, is limited to playing in the nickel defense and possibly other specialty packages.

Not that Buh is worried, since Landisch is going to find his way on the field.

"This package expands," Buh said of the defense. "We can find a role for him. That's enough to call him a starter. If he's our fourth guy or he's our third guy, he's going to play a lot on game day."

It's not Landisch's fault he's stuck behind two of the best linebackers in the Big Ten Conference in Taylor and Borland.

"We as a linebacker group compete every single day," Landisch said. "Being under guys like Mike Taylor and Chris Borland, you always want to strive to keep getting better because you see guys like that in front of you."

With the coaches being careful with Taylor earlier in camp while he nursed a minor hamstring injury, Landisch received significant snaps with the first defense. He also filled in all spring, which Taylor missed following hip surgery.

"It's better competition because we go ones-ones here at Wisconsin," Landisch said. "Going against the No. 1 offensive line, guys like (center) Travis Frederick, it gives you good experience and helps your game."

UW head coach Bret Bielema has not expressed any concern with the lack of practice time the starting linebackers have received together, which increased this week. When they have been together, they have been impressive, Bielema said.

The most significant injury at this time appears to be the back tightness that has sidelined junior backup A.J. Fenton for more than a week.

Buh said there is value to the starters being together, but added, "Some of that is overrated, too. All of these guys are repping together, so they're getting used to each other. We're pretty consistent in our communication.

"It's really a trust factor, knowing that player next to you can handle his job. Right now, we feel we have six (linebackers who can play). I don't think it's that much of an issue."

Landisch was one of only three true freshmen to letter last year, when he played in all 14 games. He recovered a fumble for a touchdown and had three tackles against Indiana.

"For him to come along at such an early time in his career shows how smart he is and how athletic he is," Taylor said. "He's going to be a vital part of this defense, now and in the future."