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Wisconsin football: cornerbacks speak to the media

Read up on what new position coach Hank Poteat and others had to say about this strong group!

Caesar Williams at practice
Kelli Steffes; UW Athletics Communications

Coming into the 2021 spring practice season the cornerback position group is deep, but they are still looking to do even more in 2021. Leading the way are two established and experienced starters in Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams, but behind them, a new group appears like they are starting to emerge.

Finding out who will be with them in that rotation is new corners coach Hank Poteat who is in his first season with the Badgers. Here you can read up on what he and others had to say about spring practice thus far, starting with Poteat.

To start things off, coach Poteat was asked about what he’s been teaching the group and how he wants his corners to play.

“I’ve just been trying to build a foundation. We’re starting from scratch with our press technique. Stressing slow tempo at the line and be able to use our hands... I want to be physical at the line of scrimmage and force wide receivers to earn every yard that they get throughout the game.”

After that, Poteat was asked about what he has learned about the players in the room thus far in Spring practice.

“I think I have a really good group, they really pick up on what I am trying to teach... I still like this group, I think they have some athleticism in there. What I am trying to do is work on the mindset. Before you can even get to the technical part, the mindset, being out there on an island you have to really have the mindset to compete.”

Later on, Poteat was asked about the younger plays in Dean Engram and Alexander Smith who appear to be emerging as possible rotation players to go along with Hicks and Williams.

“I think they are ready, they want to get on the field. They have been doing a good job of handling the role since Faion has been limited. They both have taken on the role of playing corner and nickel. They’re doing a good job of retaining the information and seeing where they fit in the defense... I think they’re doing a really good job for us, those are two of the guys that are really tough mentally.”

To round things out, Poteat was asked about his relationship with Jim Leonhard who formerly took on the role of cornerbacks coach. When discussing how they work together Poteat had this to say.

“Really for us, we more so focus on the scheme. He’s just trying to help me get caught up on the scheme. Early on when I first got here it was more so talking through the personnel and what my players look like in the room. When it comes to just me coaching the players he just lets me do what I do.”

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 08 New Mexico at Wisconsin Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Later on, Williams joined the zoom call to discuss spring practice. To start, he was asked about Poteat teaching them to play physical at the line of scrimmage, something that the Badgers seemed to get flagged for an absurd amount in 2020.

“I love that, we got any refs listening right now? I love that, it gives us a chance to just keep making plays. That makes receivers have to earn every yard that they do against the defense.”

After that, Williams was also asked about the players he’s been alongside in Engram and Smith. When asked about playing with those two Williams had this to say.

“They bring competition to the cornerback room. As an older guy and a starter you know you can’t get too high and cant get too low. With guys like that competing with you everyday it makes you stay on your toes. We’re looking for that third corner so having those guys compete it makes the whole group want to get better.”

Kelli Steffes

After Williams, Engram and Smith joined to discuss how they have progressed this spring. First, they were asked about what they have gotten better at this off-season.

From Engram: “We’ve seen tremendous growth as a whole unit but specifically for me I’ve seen more consistency in my off technique. Getting those reps has been really valuable for me to that consistency under my belt.”

From Smith: “From last season to now I would just say consistency within my technique. Understanding what I am good at, my strong suits, and what I am weak at. Just being more consistent on the field within my technique.”

Later on, Engram was asked about the depth of the group and what it is like competing with that group day in and day out.

“It’s been a great experience in spring. We’ve been able to get a lot of guys a lot of reps which only adds to the depth of our group. We’ve been able to have a lot of different guys that can come in and play on any down. It keeps us on our toes and competitive.”

Overall, this group seems to be learning a lot under coach Poteat, and in turn Poteat is learning about what he has in the cornerback room. With experience starters in Williams and Hicks, and developing young players like Smith and Engram this group could have some real depth that could help them be one of the stronger units in the 2021 season.