Similar to its cornerback situation, Wisconsin’s safety position comes into 2018 with one spot solidified while the other remains up in the air. This will be crucial to the Wisconsin defense this season as it comes off a 2017 campaign with a seasoned secondary that led the FBS in team passer rating efficiency defense.
There could be a relatively new, inexperienced set of faces seen with these particular roles to replace Natrell Jamerson and Joe Ferguson; however, this group of safeties, led by senior D’Cota Dixon, looks to continue precedent and assert themselves as a top unit in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin’s 2018 Safeties
|D'Cota Dixon||5'10||198||R-SR||Oak Hill, Fla.||New Smyrna Beach|
|Patrick Johnson||5'11||193||R-SO||Washington, D.C.||The Bullis School|
|Scott Nelson||6'2||109||R-FR||Detroit, Mich.||University of Detroit Jesuit|
|Eric Burrell||6'0||191||R-SO||Severn, Md.||McDonogh School|
|Seth Currens||6'3||206||R-SO||Pickerington, Ohio||Central|
|Evan Bondoc||6'1||199||R-SR||Madison, Wis.||Edgewood|
|Reggie Pearson||5'10||190||FR||Inskter, Mich.||River Rouge|
|Tyler Mais||6'1||200||FR||Waunakee, Wis.||Waunakee|
|John Torchio||6'1||197||FR||Lafayette, Calif.||Campolindo|
|Collin Wilder||5'10||195||JR||Katy, Tex.||Katy (Houston transfer)|
The Badgers received good news last season when Dixon received a medical hardship exemption, which prompted another year of eligibility from the NCAA and led to Wisconsin not having to replace both safety spots in 2018.
Dixon enters the season looking to solidify himself as one of the top secondary players in the country. Recently, he was named to a few preseason award watch lists, which including the following:
The nominations do not come as a surprise, as Dixon is coming off an impressive 2017 in which he was fourth on the team in tackles despite fighting off injuries and missing a couple of games.
Dixon will look to build on that success and be the heart of the defense for the Badgers this fall, despite sitting out all of spring practices in healing his right shoulder.
He has surely looked the part so far, at least from this summer conditioning highlight:
With Dixon out this spring, Patrick Johnson and Scott Nelson worked with the first-team defense in spring ball. While the battle appears neck and neck, they should fill the spots nicely and be a productive unit for Wisconsin in 2018.
After a right arm injury limited Patrick Johnson to just four games a season ago, the redshirt sophomore looks to step back into the rotation at the opposing safety position.
“Personally, this spring ball, I see spring ball as an area to work on your weaknesses” Johnson told B5Q’s Jake Kocorowski in April. “So right now, I’m putting myself into position to play more man coverage, to play more down in the box area so I can put myself in positions to cover receivers, cover tight ends and see where I’m at and see how I can work on my craft. I also got to work on the post safety and free safety as well, but my biggest battle right now is being able to cover the receivers and stuff like that. I want that to be locked down.”
Nelson comes off a 2017 season in which he was named co-defensive scout team player of the year.
When asked at the beginning of spring practices if he could see Nelson and Dixon playing together, defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said “I could, absolutely,” though he also mentioned both Johnson and Pat Burrell as also players with experience.
As seen often after spring practices, Nelson worked with Dixon, with the latter acting as a mentor of sorts to the second-year player.
“Scott is very mature for his age, much more mature than I was as a freshman,” Dixon told reporters back on April 19, adding that the redshirt freshman “epitomizes what it means to be a leader.”
Coming in at 6’2, Nelson has a lanky frame that could develop similar to a Michael Caputo a few seasons ago (the latter being 6’1, 206 pounds his senior year). If Nelson can hold strong in the run game, he could be a large contributor in 2018.
Burrell saw action in all 14 games a season ago. With Joe Ferguson stepping up to replace Dixon as a starting safety due to injury, Burrell received reps as the third safety in a particular sub package deployed by Leonhard—particularly seen against Iowa.
Senior Evan Bondoc, a former walk-on, has played in 24 career games primarily on the special team’s unit. Redshirt sophomore Seth Currens also performed primarily on special teams and will likely contribute to that unit in 2018 as well. While neither might not project to see a lot of time at safety, though injuries and other circumstances may change that, these type of special team players are still vital to a team’s success in the third facet of the game.
Early enrollee Reggie Pearson had been a Wisconsin verbal commit since 2016 and is coming off an impressive high school career (varsity all four years) where he was named all-state in Michigan. Pearson’s prep highlight tape shows a strong ability to play in the run game, which is integral to Wisconsin’s defensive success. If Pearson can pick up and learn from Dixon’s ability, he could be a staple in the program for years to come.
Behind this group, Waunakee’s Tyler Mais redshirted last season. Houston transfer Collin Wilder is currently on the 2018 120-man roster, though he will have to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules.