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Wisconsin’s cornerbacks need to fill some big shoes in 2018

Badgers have a young group ready to step up in the secondary

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Wisconsin vs Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

In recent years, it is not often that a Wisconsin defense has more question marks than its offense, but heading into 2018 that appears to be the case. While the offense appears to be ready to fire on all cylinders at nearly every position, certain defensive groups like cornerback will need somewhat unfamiliar faces to step in and make a name for themselves.

While that position group may be one of the biggest spots facing questions heading into fall camp and the Aug. 31 season opener against Western Kentucky, it appears that Wisconsin has the talent at corner to silence those potential doubts.

Wisconsin’s 2018 Cornerbacks

Name Height Weight Year Hometown High School
Name Height Weight Year Hometown High School
Dontye Carriere-Williams 5'10 189 R-SO Miami, Fla. St. Thomas Aquinas
Madison Cone 5'9 176 SO Kernersville, N.C. East Forsyth
Caesar Williams 6'0 185 R-SO Grand Prairie, Tex. South
Faion Hicks 5'10 184 R-FR Miami, Fla. Flanagan
Donte Burton 5'10 181 FR Loganville, Ga. Loganville
Deron Harrell 6'2 182 R-FR Denver, Col. East
Cristian Volpentesta 5'9 184 R-SO Highland Park, Ill. Highland Park
Rachad Wildgoose 5'11 193 FR Miramar, Fla. Miami Northwestern
Travian Blaylock 5'11 183 FR Humble, Tex. Atascocita
Alexander Smith 5'11 181 FR Culver City, Calif. Culver City

Dontye Carriere-Williams heads into this fall as Wisconsin’s presumptive No. 1 cornerback after a season of playing primarily as the third cornerback in nickel subpackages. He played a huge role for Wisconsin last year in this position and filled a spot that was somewhat up in the air going into 2017.

As a freshman, Carriere-Williams excelled in the pass coverage game, taking a huge step in going from a somewhat unknown freshman to high-level corner, and he appears ready to take a larger leap in 2018. Couple that with what he learned from a seasoned secondary group a season ago with departing starters Nick Nelson and Derrick Tindal, Carriere-Williams will solidify himself as a true No. 1 corner for Wisconsin.

On the outside looking in, though Carriere-Williams may lock down one of those cornerback spots, the other will have a few suitors vying for the starting role. There will be solid competition to play the majority of that second spot, and depending upon who stands out in fall camp, there could be a rotation early in the season to see which guy defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard trusts in certain situations. Not to mention with the various offenses Wisconsin will have to deploy, subpackages featuring multiple cornerbacks will likely be utilized.

From Friday’s @badgerfootball practice/scrimmage, the CBs #noflyzone

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Madison Cone is another corner who received playing time last season, recording a tackle against Minnesota and played sparingly in the Orange Bowl victory over Miami. Cone may not be as athletic as other corners, but his competitive nature excels his game. That type of player has succeeded at Wisconsin for decades.

Leonhard alluded to that trait early last season, with the senior member of Wisconsin’s defensive backfield also noting that mentality during this spring’s practices.

“Madison, he’s really one of those guys that is very humble, he’s a very humble guy, and he has a ‘want to,’” redshirt senior D’Cota Dixon said to reporters back in April. “He has a dog in him. As a DB, that’s what you need. You have to be a dog at your position. He just has that attitude about him. He has that demeanor, that character about him that he’s going to get the job done, on and off the field, so I trust Madison 100 percent.

“I don’t worry about Madison. I don’t worry about any of these guys, to be honest, but Madison, he will be a leader.”

Faion Hicks enters 2018 with a lot of buzz and excitement around him coming off a 2017 redshirt season. Hicks is another product of the South Florida-Wisconsin defensive back pipeline that has had a tremendous amount of success in the past with Sojourn Shelton and Tindal.

Hicks reportedly ran a 4.57 40 yard dash and jumped a 36.9 vertical before coming to Wisconsin. If you compound his pure athleticism with his training under Leonhard and the staff, the sky appears to be the limit for Hicks. His ability to make plays both in the secondary and come up in the run game will be crucial to his success against opposing Big Ten offenses.

Leonhard noted at the end of spring ball that Hicks performed well.

“He’s done a great job,” Leonhard said. “Physically, very very talented. He’s got a great understanding of what we do. I was very pleased with what he did this spring. He had the shoulder [injury last spring], but he was able to come back and practice—I think it was about two-thirds of the year, a little over half of the year last year—so he’s got a good feel for what we do and the day-to-day. Just what we’re going to ask him to do, he’s been around it. I’m excited for what he’s going to be in this program. I think he’s got a lot of talent, and he has a great mentality. He’s a worker, he’s going to go after it and compete.”

A prospect with a lot of potential to be a really great talent is Caesar Williams. The redshirt sophomore has the physical prowess that you look for in today’s game. At 6’0, 185 pounds, Williams steps in bigger than Nelson, last year’s standout corner and fourth round NFL draft pick, in terms of height. The size is similar, and their style of play reflects each other as well. Coupled with impressive height, Williams has a long frame and long strides that may help him become a potential playmaker. He played well in the spring making some interceptions and timely pass break-ups.

Donte Burton appears to be a dark horse in the pack. A four-star recruit by ESPN, Burton claimed all-state honors as a senior at Loganville High School in Georgia. Burton plays in press coverage really well, and appeared to adjust well as an early enrollee during spring practices. It will be worth watching if he could see some time in passing situations as the season goes on.

Behind the group of five mentioned above the Badgers also have some depth. Cristian Volpentesa did not see time on the field last season due to injury and also redshirted in 2016. Converted wide receiver Deron Harrell, a former grayshirt, combines his 6’2 height with impressive athleticism, and played both quarterback and defensive back during his high school days.

Along with Burton, three other true freshmen will start their Wisconsin careers. Travian Blaylock comes to Madison as a multi-sport prep standout from Texas, finishing as the Class 6A State runner-up in triple jump as a junior. Alexander Smith excelled at Culver City on the field and in the classroom, recording 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a two-way player, along with being noted as a three-time scholar athlete.

To cap off Wisconsin’s class of 2018, another South Florida corner—Rachad Wildgoose—committed and signed with Wisconsin in February.

B5Q’s Jake Kocorowski contributed to this story.