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Despite losing D’Cota Dixon, Wisconsin safeties have experience heading into 2019

B5Q previews the safety position where many had to step up last season.

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NCAA Football: Pinstripe Bowl-Wisconsin vs Miami Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Gone in 2019 will be D’Cota Dixon, who left an impressionable impact on the Wisconsin Badgers program both on and off the field. While the former captain and 2018 Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year pursues his NFL dreams, Scott Nelson, Eric Burrell and the rest of the safeties hope to continue their development and exceed their pervious performances heading into next season.

Injuries hit the position group during the 2018 campaign, forcing Burrell, Pearson and the also-departed Evan Bondoc to step up when called upon. For the former two, that experience will likely help heading into this season in another year under the tutelage of defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jim Leonhard.

Presumed 2019 spring roster for Wisconsin’s safeties

  • Reggie Pearson, redshirt freshman (four games, one start); five tackles, one forced fumble.
  • Scott Nelson, redshirt sophomore (nine games, eight starts); 41 tackles (22 solo), one forced fumble, 3.5 tackles for loss, one interception, six pass breakups.
  • Eric Burrell, redshirt junior (13 games, six starts): 42 tackles, one interception, two pass breakups, three quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles.
  • Collin Wilder; redshirt junior (transfer from Houston; 15 career games with Cougars); nine tackles; nine punt returns, 44 yards.
  • Seth Currens, redshirt junior (13 games); two tackles
  • John Torchio, redshirt freshman; did not play in 2018
  • Tyler Mais; redshirt sophomore; did not play in 2018

*all stats are from 2018 season except Wilder’s

Check out our discussion about the safeties with WOZN’s Zach Heilprin on a recent edition of Bucky’s 5th Podcast. Be sure to follow on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and pretty much everywhere where you listen to your favorite podcasts!

Who to watch

Four names pop out when discussing the position, at least what initially comes to mind.

Nelson and Burrell started the most games out of the returning bunch at this position group. The latter—who has showcased a hard-hitting nature—stepped up and started six contests with Dixon and Nelson injured, while the former flashed playmaking potential in fall camp but with those aforementioned ailments missed time on the field.

Both can use the 15 spring practices to continue to hone their craft further, including in the tackling department where there were some misses in the open field in 2018.

There is also Pearson, who retained his redshirt after playing in four games last season. In his one start against his home-state program, Michigan, at the Big House, he showed potential with his five tackles and a forced fumble.

Wilder transferred to Wisconsin from Houston as a reported walk-on and sat out last season due to NCAA rules. He showed punt returner and special teams skills in 2016 as a true freshman but was injured for all but two games for the 2017 season. Because we did not necessarily see much of him (or really pay attention to him last year because he sat out) last year, we will see how the coaching staff works him in and what type of impact he can make in the defensive backfield now that he is eligible.

A fifth player here is Currens, who like Burrell will be in his fourth year in his program and could continue to find his footing in the secondary.

Why fans should pay attention to this position this spring

Spring ball is a time for learning and development, and performances during these 15 practices can position players for reps during fall camp in August. Wisconsin appears to be in good hands at safety in yet another area where an apparent depth—though not as deep as the cornerbacks—will allow competition to flourish and the position group strengthen further.

Nelson, Burrell and Pearson all showed they could play when their respective numbers were called upon in 2018. From what was seen last year, Nelson and Burrell put together that unique combination of ballhawking (Nelson) and physical (Burrell) presences as potential starting safeties. If not for Pearson being out at some points due to injury, he could have made a greater splash in his first season at UW. How Wilder factors in will be interesting as well.