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2018 Wisconsin safeties preview: Who will step up alongside D’Cota Dixon?

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There’s talent—some unproven—in this group.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin’s 2018 Safeties

2018 Spring Safeties 2018 Eligibility
2018 Spring Safeties 2018 Eligibility
D'Cota Dixon R-SR
Patrick Johnson R-SO*
Eric Burrell R-SO
Seth Currens R-SO
Evan Bondoc R-SR
Scott Nelson R-FR
Blake Mielke R-JR
Tyler Mais R-FR
Kobe Knaak R-FR
Reggie Pearson FR
Jake Benzing R-FR
Brad Laufenberg R-FR
Ryan O'Connell R-FR

*Note: Wisconsin’s 2018 spring roster was officially released on March 12. Blake Mielke is not on the spring roster, as first reported by the Wisconsin State Journal’s Jason Galloway. Patrick Johnson should be eligible for a medical hardship waiver after playing in only four of 14 games last season, so B5Q is noting the potential redshirt sophomore label, though he will technically be listed as a junior until that waiver is confirmed. On Tuesday, Wisconsin officially announced D’Cota Dixon would not participate in spring practices due to a shoulder injury.

2017 Leaders

D’Cota Dixon (55 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, one interception)
Natrell Jamerson (51 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions, one pick-six)
Joe Ferguson (17 tackles, four interceptions, 136 interception return yards, one pick-six)

Who’s Leaving

Natrell Jamerson
Joe Ferguson

Early Enrollees

Reggie Pearson

Key Additions

Pearson

Position Overview

Wisconsin received a gift in 2017 when Dixon was granted an additional season of eligibility, allowing the team’s fourth-leading tackler to patrol the defensive backfield for one final season.

Jamerson, the wide receiver-turned-cornerback-turned-safety, and Ferguson will be tough players to replace. Both significantly contributed to a top-five defense, with Jamerson starting every game and Ferguson stepping in for an injured Dixon and tying for the team lead in interceptions.

Wisconsin announced on Tuesday that Dixon was out for the spring due to a shoulder injury, so that opens up significant opportunities for the rest of the roster.

Fortunately, the Badgers have a stable of safeties waiting in the wings, including third-year players Patrick Johnson and Eric Burrell, along with redshirt senior Evan Bondoc.

Johnson played in only four games after a right arm injury cost him the rest of 2017, but he earned a position in the two-deep behind Jamerson at free safety before the injury. Burrell stepped up and played in all 14 games, recording a pass break-up against Iowa.

Johnson and Scott Nelson worked with what appeared to be the “first-team” defense on Tuesday. Burrell reportedly worked with the top unit on Thursday, according to the Wisconsin State Journal’s Jason Galloway.

Nelson received reps with the first-team defense in the first week of spring practices after redshirting last year, earning one of the scout-team player of the year honors on defense.

Will-be redshirt sophomore Seth Currens also played in 14 games last season, while incoming freshman Reggie Pearson could also have a chance to contribute in 2018 as he enrolled early.

Regardless of who Jim Leonhard and co., find to match with Dixon, Wisconsin’s last line of defense in the backfield should be well-manned for the upcoming season, allowing the Badgers to maintain their stance as one of the top defenses in college football.