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Post spring practice thoughts: safeties

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Some young safeties stepped up this spring, while Collin Wilder and Scott Nelson firmed up their starting spots.

Kelli Steffes, UW Athletics

The Wisconsin Badgers football team ended their spring practice period on Friday. After missing out on spring practice last year, having an extra 15 sessions proved to be extremely useful for Paul Chryst’s group. The Badgers didn’t have a spring game, or anything like that, but we were still able to glean a decent amount of information from the open practices and media availability.

Here are some notes on Jim Leonhard’s safeties unit now that spring practice is over.

The depth chart beyond the two starters (Scott Nelson and Collin Wilder) is still very fluid, but here is our best guess at what the depth chart might look like heading into fall camp.

Post Spring Depth Chart

Safeties
Safeties
FS -- Starter: Scott Nelson
FS -- Backup: John Torchio or Travian Blaylock
SS -- Starter: Collin Wilder
SS -- Backup: Titus Toler or Preston Zachman

Spring standouts

Outside of the projected starters, the two names that popped up most frequently this spring were John Torchio and Preston Zachman.

Torchio had multiple interceptions in open practices, and he brings experience to the group. A walk-on from California, Torchio positioned himself nicely by putting together a strong spring.

New to the position, Preston Zachman was the name that generated the most buzz. After joining the team as an athlete in the 2020 recruiting class, Zachman spent most of last season as an inside linebacker. With a plethora of talented options in front of him on the depth chart at linebacker, Zachman shed some weight and shifted back to safety. So far the move seems to be paying off.

The former three-star recruit drew heavy praise by Jim Leonhard and his teammates this spring, and he appears to a player that could shake up the future depth chart.

Questions we still have

From all accounts, Wilder and Nelson have played well together as the starting tandem. The lingering question remains though, who will earns snaps behind them? Jim Leonhard deploys three safeties frequently, meaning that at least one other safety will be needed in 2021.

In spring ball there were five players who saw the field: Torchio, Travian Blaylock, Titus Toler, Zachman, and walk-on Tyler Mais. At this point Torchio, Blaylock, Toler, and Zachman appear to have the best odds of grabbing one of the open spots in the two-deep, but the exact pairing is still up in the air.

Torchio had a strong spring and has the most experience of the bunch after starting a game in 2019, and also seeing significant snaps as a reserve. Like Torchio, Blaylock is also a redshirt junior, and is fighting for a greater role after spending most of his career as a special teams player. Both players earned praise from Wilder and Nelson during media availability. If Leonhard leans on experience, those two would make a ton of sense.

However, Toler may have the highest ceiling of the group, and he was in the two-deep last year before going down with an injury after only two games. He recorded an interception against Michigan in 2020. His name was not thrown around quite as much, as he continues to recover from the injury, but he is someone that the staff is high on.

As previously mentioned, Zachman had a really strong spring, could he make an immediate impact after switching positions?

Overall, it appears as though spots are up for grabs in the safety room. With both Nelson and Wilder potentially gone after 2021, earning a spot in the rotation this season would elevate the chances of starting come 2022. With four-star recruit Hunter Wohler joining the team come fall, all five players mentioned have plenty to fight for this off-season.