When announcing his transfer in the offseason, cornerback Jay Shaw was expected to take this Badgers defense to the level of consistency they had seen in years past following the departure of several defensive backs.
Following a season in which he was named a second-team All-Pac 12 player, Shaw was named a starter for the Badgers, which was further solidified following an injury to Alexander Smith.
However, in Week 1, it was clear that the secondary would be an area of inconsistency early, as Shaw and fellow starter Ricardo Hallman were picked on by FCS quarterback Zach Annexstad over the top due to their size.
But, the breaking point for Shaw came in Week 4, when the sixth-year senior was targeted heavily by Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito, which resulted in a multitude of completions and pass interference penalties.
As a result, Toledo transfer Justin Clark began seeing more consistent playing time on the outside after rotating in the slot with Cedrick Dort Jr.
Speaking to the media following Wisconsin’s 23-10 win over the Maryland Terrapins, Shaw detailed the process that ensued from his performance in Week 4, highlighting the importance of going back to the fundamentals to reset.
“I’ll be honest, with Illinois, with them PI’s, I don’t like getting called for PI’s. After that, I had to go back to my basics [and] go back to my technique [and] go back to the things that essentially got me here,” Shaw said.
Reminiscing on his UCLA career, Shaw acknowledged that he didn’t understand how comfortable he was at his previous destination, which made the transition tougher than he expected.
“I don’t believe any transition would be smooth, because [you’re] learning. With it not being smooth, I had my little bumps, and it was just about getting comfortable again. The move showed me how comfortable I was at UCLA. I just had to come here and re-insert that comfort level.”
Speaking specifically about that comfort level, Shaw gave details into his relationship with former UCLA safety Quentin Lake, whom he played with for several years.
“[At UCLA], I was playing with Quentin Lake for four, five years. So, sometimes, [when we were] getting in the game, I just look at him [and] we don’t even need to talk. It’s kind of like that comfortability of knowing somebody that was being established [earlier in the season]. We wanted it to be established quicker and sooner, but it took a little bit more time,” Shaw said.
Now, however, Shaw’s comfort level has improved to that level with Cedrick Dort, Wisconsin’s nickel corner, leading to better results defensively.
“[As for why it didn’t click sooner], it was growing pains and getting used to people. Now, me and [cornerback Cedric Dort] sometimes, we [are like veterans]. I don’t even got to talk to him,” Shaw said. “Getting Hunter [Wohler] back, that’s a guy that really knows the defense. I trust Hunter so much. The trust is always there.”
The biggest thing for Shaw was retaining that comfort level, as he expressed how he’s been the same player, despite the change and initial struggles.
Once I come re-insert that comfort, it starts clicking in my head. At the end of the day, I’m that same player. I’m not nobody different. Just some growing pains.”
But, how exactly has Shaw grown as a player to obtain that comfort?
When discussing his improvements as a player, the sixth-year cornerback gave significant credit to defensive backs coach Hank Poteat for his knowledge from a player’s perspective.
“Shoutout to Coach [Poteat] and Coach Leonhard. I know me and Coach Po’s relationship been growing and developing. He’s really been helping me out. [I’m] starting to just see stuff and slow the game down. Technically, I thank Coach Po a lot. He’s helped me with my off man-to-man and my press man-to-man. Now, I feel like I’m really becoming a full corner. So, shoutout to Coach Leonhard and Coach Po for putting us in the best position.”
Shaw has willingly sought out Poteat’s help, going to his room several times a week for film study, understanding the value that Wisconsin’s defensive backs coach brings with his perspective.
“It comes down to film study with Coach Po. I go to coach Po [and] chat up in his office a few times a week. I hear what he has to say [and] he gives me that knowledge because he played in the NFL [and] he sees stuff. He sees stuff way better than I see stuff. I go meet with Coach Po and get that knowledge with film,” Shaw said. “Coach Po [has] been honing in on me being a better football player.”
With three games left in the season, Shaw will be counted upon in Wisconsin’s secondary, where he’s improved in recent weeks after displaying inconsistencies early in the season.