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Wisconsin 2017 spring football preview: Badgers have options for replacing Leo Musso

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Wisconsin should be in good hands at free safety.

Akron v Wisconsin Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The safety position has been a strength for the Wisconsin Badgers the past five seasons, with Leo Musso, Michael Caputo, Tanner McEvoy, Dezmen Southward, and Shelton Johnson all contributing to Wisconsin’s recent defensive dominance.

Last season, Musso led the team in interceptions with five, finished second in total tackles, and was a vocal leader of the defense. Replacing him will be one of the keys to Wisconsin’s secondary in 2017. D’Cota Dixon returns at strong safety and should be expected to perform at an All-Big Ten level as a senior. The success of this position group will hinge on the development of a few key players including senior Natrell Jamerson, junior Arrington Farrar, redshirt senior Joe Ferguson, sophomore Patrick Johnson, and potentially redshirt freshman Eric Burrell.

One thing for certain is that new defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard—a former NFL safety himself—will be excited to work with and evaluate this position group throughout spring practice.

Wisconsin’s 2017 Safeties

Safeties 2017 Year Height Weight Hometown
Safeties 2017 Year Height Weight Hometown
D’Cota Dixon SR 5’10 197 Oak Hill, Fla.
Natrell Jamerson SR 6’0 188 Ocala, Fla.
Lubern Figaro SR 6'0 185 Everett, Mass.
Arrington Farrar JR 6’2 220 Atlanta, Ga.
Patrick Johnson SO 5’11 203 Washington, D.C.
Eric Burrell R-FR 6’0 184 Severn, Md.
Joe Ferguson R-SR 6’1 195 Madison, Wis.
Seth Currens R-FR 6’3 208 Pickerington, Ohio
Evan Bondoc R-JR 6’1 203 Madison, Wis.
Blake Mielke R-SO 6’2 199 Hartland, Wis.
Bret Verstegen R-SO 5’11 183 Kimberly, Wis.
Cristian Volpenteseta R-FR 5’9 191 Highland Park, Ill.
Kobe Knaak R-FR 5’10 180 Franklin, Wis.
Scott Nelson FR 6’2 184 Detroit, Mich.

*Figaro is listed as a safety on Wisconsin’s 2017 spring roster, but did play cornerback/nickel back last year. We listed him at both positions in our spring previews.

**Both Christian Volpentesta and Kobe Knaak were listed as defensive backs on Wisconsin’s roster rather than cornerback or safety. We’ve added them to both position previews for now.

2016 Leaders

Leo Musso: 74 total tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, five interceptions, one pass defended, one fumble recovery

D’Cota Dixon: 60 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sacks, four interceptions, four passes defended, one fumble recovery, one forced fumble

Arrington Farrar: Seven total tackles, one force fumble

Joe Ferguson: Seven total tackles

Patrick Johnson: Three total tackles

Key Departures

Leo Musso (eligibility)

Keelon Brookins (graduation)

Key Additions

Scott Nelson (fall enrollee)

Position Overview

Wisconsin returns one its most productive defensive players in Dixon. Last year, he was an aggressive, physical presence for the defense and one of the team’s best tacklers. An All-Big Ten media third-team selection, Dixon will be the leader of this safety corps and an integral part of Wisconsin’s potential defensive success in 2017.

Now a senior, Jamerson is moving to safety for spring practice, a sign that he may get the first shot at replacing Musso. The former cornerback missed significant time last year after a leg injury he suffered against Akron on Sept. 10. His speed has been on display in the return game during his career in Madison (see here) and now that he’s fully healthy, he has the potential to be a playmaker at safety if he can polish up his cover skills.

Natrell Jamerson 98-YD Kickoff Return vs. Maryland (Big Ten Network/YouTube)

Arrington Farrar, a junior from Atlanta, has massive potential and will fight for reps at free safety with Jamerson. Farrar played mostly special teams as an underclassman, but he is a prime candidate to break out for the Badgers. Wisconsin’s highest-rated recruit in the class of 2015, Farrar has good size at 6’2, 220 pounds.

Redshirt senior Ferguson and sophomore Johnson are also candidates to see snaps this spring. Ferguson will need to earn a starting spot during fall camp, like we saw with Musso last year, but his experience will be attractive to the coaching staff. Johnson is another player in the mix for the Badgers. The Washington, D.C., native played in 13 games as a true freshman and could become a factor with a big spring.