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Wisconsin football fall camp 2019: secondary preview

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A unit that was a question mark in 2018 comes into 2019 with experience and depth.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Fall camp for the Wisconsin Badgers has gotten underway so it is time for us to speculate wildly as to what the divvying up of reps during practice means for the depth chart come August 30th. Over the next two weeks we will be previewing each position group so that you’ll have an idea of what to expect once the season actually kicks off.

We started this with the special teams unit and now dive into the secondary which brings back a ton of talent and experience to a group that grew tremendously in 2018.

Coming into 2018 the secondary was a big question mark for the Wisconsin football team. In fall camp they had a lot of youth, injuries and player departures that put some pieces of this group onto the field much earlier than anyone anticipated. It’s fair to say that a host of freshmen and sophomores struggled to start last season, but appeared to gain a ton of confidence as the season went on. Now in 2019, this unit is looking to take another step forward with a host of experienced players and depth at each position.

What was once a weakness has now grown into a strength.

2018 Statistical Leaders

  • D’Cota Dixon: 43 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 3 passes defended, 1 forced fumble
  • Eric Burrell: 41 total tackles. 1 interception, 2 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles
  • Scott Nelson: 41 total tales, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 6 passes defended, 1 forced fumble
  • Faion Hicks: 35 total tackles, 1 interception, three passes defended
  • Rachad Wildgoose: 29 total tackles, seven passes defended, 2 fumbles recovered
  • Caesar Williams: 24 total tackles, 1 interception, 3 passes defended
  • Madison Cone: 18 total tackles, two interceptions
  • Deron Harrell: 10 total tackles
  • Reggie Pearson: 5 total tackles
  • Donte Burton: 5 total tackles

2019 Roster

Cornerback: Faion Hicks (SO), Donte Burton (RS-FR), Rachad Wildgoose (SO), Dean Engram (FR), Deron Harrell (SO), Alexander Smith (FR), Semar Melvin (FR), Caesar Williams (JR), James Williams (FR), Travian Blaylock (FR), Cristian Volpentesa (JR), Kobe Knaak (JR)

Saftey: Reggie Pearson (RS-FR), Titus Toler (FR), Scott Nelson (SO), Collin Wilder (JR), John Torchio (FR), Eric Burrell (JR), Tyler Mais (SO), Madison Cone (JR), Dante Caputo (FR)

2019 Projected Depth Chart

Position Starter Backup
Position Starter Backup
Cornerback Rachad Wildgoose Deron Harrell
Free Safety Scott Nelson Reggie Pearson
Strong Safety Eric Burrell Collin Wilder
Cornerback Faion Hicks Caesar Williams

2019 Position Discussion/Overview

As we’ve hit on before, the secondary struggled at times for Wisconsin early in the 2018 season. It appeared at the start of fall camp that the secondary would be D’Cota Dixon, Scott Nelson, Dontye Carriere-Williams and a second, unnamed corner. However Williams left the team in fall practice and the dynamic duo of Dixon and Nelson battled injury throughout the season. Those happenings thrust young guys like Rachad Wildgoose and Eric Burrell into more action than originally anticipated. There were certainly growing pains but the unit tremendously improved as the year went on.

Now in 2019 the secondary has youth AND experience, a strong combo for not only this year but for years to come. If you take a look at the the 2018 statistical leaders above, only one player departed from that group in Dixon, a current Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety. The rest are returning to try and take a leap from year one to year two.

The projected starters in the secondary each started a handful of games in 2018. Burrell made six starts, Nelson made eight, Hicks made 11, while Wildgoose made seven. From that alone you have to feel fairly comfortable that experience is oozing in the projected starters despite the eldest class status being junior Eric Burrell.

While the projected starters bring a ton of experience to the table, so do the number two guys. At cornerback, Deron Harrell made five starts as did Caesar Williams. Donte Burton appeared in four games and was able to keep his redshirt status as well. At safety Reggie Pearson appeared in four games making one start and Madison Cone appeared in twelve games as a nickelback.

Additionally, the Badgers will have Collin Wilder this year who appeared in 15 games at Houston before transferring to Wisconsin.

The depth of both the starters and the backups means that defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard has a plethora of options to go with at all four secondary spots. If a certain player is not giving Leonhard what he wants in his role, he has the ability to make adjustments and go with someone else. There will likely be guys who feel they deserve more playing time, but that is a good problem to have. Head coach Paul Chryst talked about that at this year’s Big Ten Media Days saying the unit must focus on getting better everyday.

Despite the inexperience, the Badgers still ranked 22nd in passing yards allowed a season ago. The biggest issue was the big plays, as Wisconsin ranked 102nd in passing yards per completion at 11.45. Cutting down on those chunk passes will certainly be needed to have improvement in 2019. However, the struggles cannot be attributed to the secondary alone, with the defensive line and outside linebackers providing little pressure on opposing quarterbacks it left a young secondary often on islands. If the defensive line play can improve, it will only help the guys behind them improve as well. While this unit is still young, it has got experience, and if they can grow even more this season they should be a fun group to watch.