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Spring Football 2021: cornerback preview

The Badgers have two established starters, but how clear is the picture after that?

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Ohio State vs Wisconsin Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

If it seems like there have been more sports than ever this March it is because, well, there have been! What’s one more to add to the pile? The Wisconsin Badgers football team starts their spring practice on Tuesday, March 30 and we are going to start previewing each position group. UW will have 15 practices after having zero last year due to COVID-19.

Instead of the traditional position previews we’ve done in the past, these ones are going to be a little more focused on just a couple of players. We will feature one or two players who we think a full spring practice will really help and focus on one position battle that we think will be important.

Wisconsin v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Next up, cornerbacks!

Players who will benefit from a full spring practice schedule

The cornerback room is still pretty deep for the Badgers in 2021 despite Rachad Wildgoose declaring for the NFL draft this past fall. With Wildgoose gone the Badgers will be looking for someone who can take on the full-time role as the nickel corner. On the outside you’ve got two established starters in Ceasar Williams and Faion Hicks who have been through the spring practice circuit before, but behind them there are a lot of guys who could benefit.

I think the top name that really could benefit from a spring season is Donte Burton. Burton played in seven games where he recorded 10 total tackles and three pass breakups last season. He seems like a very likely candidate to take over the nickel corner position with Wildgoose now out of the picture. Burton was a very highly recruited player out of high school and we’ve seen flashes of what he can do, but I think seeing it consistently this spring would be a welcomed sign.

A couple of other guys that could push Burton in that nickel position and in the cornerback rotation are Semar Melvin and Alexander Smith. Both Melvin and Smith played sparingly throughout the year, but a full spring should allow them to prove themselves as players ready to take on a bigger load. Smith will come into this year as a sophomore and Melvin a redshirt freshman, so it’s time to see just how ready each of them are to make an impact.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Key position battle

I don’t foresee a ton of battle in the cornerback room outside of that nickel/third corner role. In Jim Leonhard’s defense, you really have three starting corners. Two that man the outside and one that comes underneath in the nickel position. Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams are both really nice starters that I don’t see anyone beating out. The nickel corner though is certainly an interesting battle.

Rachad Wildgoose was a very solid player at Wisconsin and he will be missed in 2021. I think right now the battle to watch will be at that nickel position between the three names previously mentioned in Burton, Melvin and Smith. All three have talent, but one will likely take on a bigger role. Dean Engram is another name that could work their way in, as is Max Lofy. Neither player last year, but they could work their way into the battle with a strong spring.

I think the odds on favorite to win that job is Burton, but where the rest end up in the depth chart will be important to note as well. With Williams being a senior and Hicks being a junior it is very likely that the Badgers will be looking for two new starters in 2022. In order to come into that season feeling good about what you’ve got Wisconsin will need to get some of these guys game reps. The Badgers may have a pretty strong idea of what will be in 2021 but 2022 looks very much up in the air at this point.