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Wisconsin football 2020 fall practice position preview: safeties

One of the stronger groups on the team heading into 2020, today we preview the safety position.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 07 Big Ten Championship Game Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Look, we don’t know if there is going to be college football this fall but until we know for sure that there isn’t, we are going to treat this offseason like any other and get you prepared for the 2020 season. Here are our thoughts on each position group before spring practice started and then, uh, got canceled to get you fully up to speed.

Since, to be quite honest, not a whole lot has changed since we wrote the spring previews we’ll be adding a couple of different elements to these previews. We’ll take our best guesses at how the depth chart for each position group will look this fall and we’ll also take a look at a potential breakout player for the 2021 season (in case you haven’t had your Graham Mertz fix in a few months).

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Wisconsin at Illinois Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Returning players:

Reggie Pearson, safety, 5-foot-10, 197 pounds, redshirt sophomore
Scott Nelson, safety, 6-foot-2, 204 pounds, redshirt junior
Collin Wilder, safety, 5-foot-10, 194 pounds, redshirt senior
Eric Burrell, safety, 6-foot, 195 pounds, redshirt senior
Madison Cone, safety/cornerback, 5-foot-9, 182 pounds, redshirt senior
John Torchio, safety, 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, redshirt sophomore
Titus Toler, safety, 5-foot-11, 192 pounds, redshirt freshman
Tyler Mais, safety, 6-foot-1, 196 pounds, redshirt junior
Dante Caputo, safety, 5-foot-11, 181 pounds, redshirt freshman

Departing players: None

Incoming players: None

Projected depth chart: safety

Role Player Position Year Games played
Role Player Position Year Games played
Starter Eric Burrell Free safety Redshirt senior 41 games played, 19 starts
Backup Scott Nelson Free safety Redshirt junior 10 games played, nine starts
Starter Reggie Pearson Strong safety Redshirt sophomore 18 games played, 14 starts
Backup Collin Wilder Strong safety Redshirt senior 29 games played (Houston + Wisconsin), one start

Position breakdown and depth chart: The safety position is as deep as any position group on the entire roster. Heading into 2020 the Badgers have three redshirt seniors with safeties Eric Burrell and Collin Wilder, and hybrid cornerback/safety Madison Cone. Those three upperclassmen all have significant playing experience and should be leaders for the group.

Burrell was a dynamic playmaker for the Badgers the past two seasons, and that should only carry over into this upcoming campaign. Next to him as a starter should be Reggie Pearson. Although he is younger than some of his peers, Pearson was the primary starter for all of 2019 thanks to his physical gifts and hard hitting persona. He is a player to keep an eye on in 2020 after another season of development.

Seniors Collin Wilder and Madison Cone will likely see time in specific packages, and to spell Burrell or Pearson at times. Both players have seen playing time aplenty during the course of their careers, and add some solid depth for the group.

The wildcard for the safety position though is Scott Nelson. After starting most of 2018, and opening the season as a starter against South Florida last season, he missed the final 13 games due to a knee injury. His length and speed allow him to cover the most ground of any safety on the current roster, but his injury status is still in limbo. I would anticipate that he sees the field more than Wilder and Cone, but that he might not be reinserted into his former starting role right away.

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

Walk-ons Tyler Mais and John Torchio have each impressed when called upon both at safety and in special teams. Mais is farther along in terms of his eligibility, but Torchio is probably closer to seeing the field in a larger capacity down the road after flashing what he can do against Michigan and Northwestern last year.

Redshirt freshman Titus Toler and Dante Caputo are a pair of young safeties to also monitor, with Toler being a prime candidate to be a difference maker when the depth chart ahead of him thins out after next season.

Most important player in position group: I think that the Eric Burrell is the obvious choice here. Reggie Pearson is primed to have a big year, but Burrell has consistently shown an ability to make big plays throughout his career. Last season in particular, Burrell was all over the field. In addition to being the fifth leading tackler on the defense, he was seemingly always around the ball when there were turnovers. He finished the season with a team high three interceptions, and forced two fumbles — one of which led to a defensive touchdown — and also recovered two fumbles.

Needless to say Burrell was very active last season on the Badger defense, and he should have an even bigger role this season as will be one of the leaders of the defense.

Potential breakout player for 2021: While he is currently farther down the depth chart with so many established options standing in front of him on the depth chart, Titus Toler is a player that could really take a nice leap in 2021. A big get on the recruiting trail late in the 2019 cycle, he has the raw intangibles and smarts that should make him a crucial member of the secondary in 2021. Reggie Pearson and Scott Nelson will still likely be the starters, but Toler’s physicality should push him into playing time in Jim Leonhard’s creative defense that uses three safeties at times.