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Badger Bits: Reggie Mitchell, and the problem with low turnover

Reggie Mitchell's departure hurts not just because he was needed this season, but because players so seldom leave Wisconsin before their time is up.

Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE

Wisconsin football suffered a big blow yesterday when reports surfaced that Reggie Mitchell was no longer with the football team. The news was shocking primarily because Mitchell appeared to be the starter at the safety spot next to Dezmen Southward. It was surprising, too, because Wisconsin simply doesn't see many players leave the program before they have graduated. Case in point: Wisconsin is third in the FBS and first among BCS conference schools in returning lettermen, according to Phil Steele.

The low turnover isn't a one-year anomaly, either. Wisconsin brought in a recruiting class of just 12 players in 2012, and 18 players in 2013 because attrition has been minimal these last few years. Wisconsin takes redshirting to an extreme, and in turn those redshirted players wait out their eligibility. When players get to Madison, they stay in Madison, unless they are supremely talented (see: J.J. Watt, Travis Frederick, Peter Konz, John Clay kinda), a quarterback buried on the depth chart (see: Danny O'Brien, Joe Brennan, Jon Budmayr kinda) or a homesick* Pittsburghian (see: Reggie Mitchell, Manasseh Garner).

The strategy seems like it should be a safe bet to create senior-laden rosters and healthy competition, but it also puts Wisconsin in a bind if veteran players haven't developed into starting caliber players after three or four years. Wisconsin's reliance on sub-20-player recruiting classes may be handcuffing the team from quickly addressing positions in desperate need of young talent.

Perhaps as a result, Wisconsin's current roster feels like an odd mix of extreme depth at some positions and potentially dangerous shallow spots at others. Hanging out in the deep end, Wisconsin has players to spare at quarterback, running back, defensive line and linebacker. On the flip side, Jeffrey Lewis is about to convert from running back to safety after Kyle Zuleger did the same thing this spring to pad the depth chart, the offensive line has two walk-ons -- Jacob Ninneman and Riki Kodanko -- on the projected two-deep and Wisconsin would be in awful shape at wide receiver if Jared Abbrederis wasn't an outright folk hero.

Wisconsin feels like a weirdly-built team, though it's possible I'm blowing the dichotomy out of proportion, and every team in college football is just as gangly. Wisconsin's current situation in the defensive backfield shouldn't make anyone envious, however. By breaking with tradition, Mitchell flung open the competition at safety, and if spring reports are to be believed, possibly cost Wisconsin a game or two absent a promising starter.

*Total assumption on my part


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