Following his successful freshman season in 2015, Wisconsin inside linebacker Chris Orr seemed primed for a long four years in the middle of the Badger defense.
The De Soto, Texas, native played in 10 games and started six of those games, registering 46 total tackles, the sixth most on the team. His impact trumped fellow young linebackers Ryan Connelly and T.J. Watt — both now showing promise in the NFL.
Connelly, the New York Giants rookie, suffered an ACL tear in the Giants’ win over the Washington Redskins in week four, halting an impressive rookie campaign.
Orr saw a chance to shine on the national stage his sophomore season when the Badgers opened against the No. 5 LSU Tigers. Wisconsin’s defense shut down the Tigers with a 16–14 win.
Orr, however, tore his right ACL on his first play of the game and saw his season end before it even began.
Originally, Orr didn’t believe the news.
“I was thinking if anything I just sprained ’em real bad … I was thinking I might miss next week, but I don’t know, it all depends,” Orr told the Wisconsin State Journal following his injury.
Orr spent the time studying then-defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s defensive schemes and helping aid the defense from the sideline and even up in the booth with Wilcox. This time was crucial to his development as a defender but also as a teammate.
“It helped me, first of all, connect with a lot of my teammates on a more personal level outside of football,” Orr said. “Schematically, I was charting plays, I was breaking down film during the week … [It] definitely increased my football IQ knowing how offenses like to attack our defense.”
Despite his quick return, Orr returned to a loaded linebacking core which caused a dip in playing time and in his total tackles.
Connelly and T.J. Edwards grabbed snaps in Orr’s stead and solidified the inside linebacker positions for defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard in 2018.
Orr played in all 13 games and made an impact in his start in the Pinstripe Bowl against Miami with eight tackles and an interception. But his tackle numbers dropped to 27 due to his lessened role on the defense.
This year, Orr has the position all to himself.
Orr captains one of the best — maybe the best — defensive groups in the country.
The Wisconsin defense holds the top mark in the country for third-down conversion percentage, passing yards per attempt, rushing defense, scoring defense and total defense.
These particular statistics weren’t awful for Wisconsin last year, but Orr senses something different about this year’s defense.
“Everybody’s hungry, Orr said. “Everybody wants a piece. We talk about being a dominant defense. Everybody wants a piece of that. Nobody’s going outside of themselves, nobody’s going outside of the scheme to do that. They’re just making the plays as they present themselves.”
The team is making plays, yet staying disciplined, which is a testament to their impressive run defense which Orr says is their main goal each week.
Both Orr and fellow senior linebacker Zack Baun mentioned the competition among the defense which motivates and improves the play of everyone along the defensive depth chart.
Roommates Orr and Baun hold competitions within games and the season regarding sack totals. Baun edged out Orr against the Kent State Golden Flashes last Saturday with 3.0 sacks to Orr’s 2.0.
“Yeah, he [Baun] won,” Orr said. “We were having a competition on the sacks, and we were almost tied. The rain didn’t help me. It was probably a lot of luck that he won the competition. I’m gonna get him.”
Baun currently leads the team and is sixth in the country with 6.0 sacks on the year. Orr is second with 4.0.
The No. 8 Badgers will lean on their defense heavily as they transition back into Big Ten play.
“Obviously, what they’ve done has been impressive, and also, it’s going to be more challenging as we continue to go and get back into conference play,” Head Coach Paul Chryst said. “The guys are all in it, and it’s been fun to watch. Yet, we know we still got to keep going.”
Orr knows his play can continue to improve and motivate the rest of the defense.
As a leader to several up-and-coming players, Orr also understands his responsibility as a role model to those surrounding him.
“Knowing that I’m someone that the team is going to look to, that this defense is going to look to, it kind of gives me a little extra juice,” Orr said. “It makes me study film more during the week and make sure I’m on top of everything, so I can be prepared and make plays when they present themselves.”
Orr’s defensive knowledge along with an impressive 2019 campaign could lead him to a career in the NFL — a place his brother Zach Orr played for three years before retiring due to injury.