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Wisconsin football: safety position seems in good hands

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Thoughts and updates on the safety position after meeting with projected starters Eric Burrell and Scott Nelson.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 22 Wisconsin at Iowa Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After exhausting his eligibility as a fixture of the Wisconsin secondary, D’Cota Dixon now finds himself battling for a roster position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Coincidentally, his former teammates will be down in Tampa in a little less than a month as they move on to the 2019 season, taking on the South Florida Bulls (Editor’s note: who are our new best friends) on August 30th.

Entering fall camp the Badgers have quite a few options to roam the back half of the secondary. The safety group has a strong two deep group with Houston transfer Collin Wilder, Reggie Pearson, Eric Burrell and Scott Nelson all entering the season with experience playing at the FBS level. All four of the aforementioned received positive reviews from spring practice, and the group seems to be one of the stronger ones on the team.

As a redshirt freshman, Nelson began last season in the starting lineup next to Dixon. He ended up starting in eight games after missing four due to injury, and compiled 41 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one interception, and one forced fumble. The season was filled with its up and downs, but Nelson is excited to get back at it this year as a projected starter.

Entering his sophomore season Nelson enjoyed learning from Dixon last season, working not only his preparation, but also his leadership. He feels as though he has progressed to a point of having the defensive system down now, saying he has become more comfortable each year. “First year you knew it, second year you did it, but third year you know it,” Nelson said, leading him to feel like he will be able to “play faster, not have to think as much, and make more plays.”

In addition to gaining more comfortability within the scheme, Nelson said that he has been eating better and that he has gotten a lot stronger and faster in the offseason, while also adding around 7 pounds of mostly muscle. Additionally, Nelson stated that he plans to use his aggression and speed to help him attack tackles more instead of catching them, which also comes from being more confident in the techniques that Jim Leonard has worked with him. Nelson wants to continue growing this fall camp in his tackling ability, as that has been one of his primary focuses this off-season, along with getting in and out of his breaks.

One of his potential running mates this year, Eric Burrell who is a rising junior, also saw significant snaps last year in the Badger secondary. Burrell ended up filling in for Dixon who missed large parts of last year due to injury, while also putting in work on special teams. Burrell accumulated 42 tackles, two forced fumbles, and capped the year off with an interception in the Pinstripe Bowl against Miami.

Entering his junior season Burrell is excited to get back out on the field after summer conditioning. He feels as though he learned a lot from his “big brother” Dixon, who he tries to mimic his game after. He acknowledged that he had big shoes to fill last year when Dixon went out with injuries, but that the experience he gained should help him entering this season.

Burrell feels as though the playbook is much more “smooth” for him now, and that he has a better knowledge for the roles of all 11 players out on the field. He believes that this added comfortability will allow him to play faster.

Adding to his comfortability is the relationship he has with Nelson. Burrell indicated that through their work last year and in spring practice, as well as things outside of football, they have gained a strong trust in one another.

Going into fall camp the safety group may be under new player leadership with the absence of Dixon, but with added experience and development from guys like Nelson and Burrell the group seems poised for a strong season.