Wisconsin football opens its season at Camp Randall on September 3rd where they’ll take on the Illinois State Redbirds. The Badgers are finishing up Fall camp this week and will soon be transitioning into game week, which means it's time to get you prepped for what you should expect to see from each position group this Fall.
Next up, is the secondary.
Depth Chart Projection (projected starter in bold)
Cornerback: Jay Shaw, Justin Clark, Cedrick Dort Jr.
Cornerback: Alexander Smith, Ricardo Hallman, Semar Melvin
Free Safety: John Torchio, Titus Toler, Preston Zachman
Strong Safety: Hunter Wohler, Kamo’i Latu
2022 Position Preview
To say Wisconsin lost a lot of its secondary from the 2021 season would be an understatement — both of its starting corners; Caesar Williams and Faion Hicks have moved on to the NFL and both starting safeties are gone as well, in Collin Wilder and Scott Nelson, who is trying to make the Seattle Seahawks roster.
Not to mention, Dean Engram, who was one of Wisconsin’s contributors at corner and in the slot last season, has moved to wide receiver.
With five players left to replace, one would be well within their right to think that the secondary could be a position of weakness for Wisconsin, but it’s actually the opposite.
Wisconsin signed three transfers at cornerback for the 2022 season — Jay Shaw from UCLA, Justin Clark from Toledo, and Cedrick Dort Jr from Kentucky as well as one safety transfer in Kamo’i Latu from Utah.
Shaw recorded 27 total tackles for the Bruins last season while intercepting three passes and breaking up four others. Shaw had six interceptions over the last three seasons, as well. One of which, he returned for a touchdown. Shaw was also a second-team All-PAC 12 Selection by the AP and PFF.
Justin Clark is coming in with four career interceptions at Toledo, one coming in 2021. Dort Jr, while he has not recorded a collegiate interception, has broken up seven passes and has recorded 51 total tackles.
With the transfers and the remaining talent, Jim Leonhard has said that he may have the deepest group of corners he’s had in his time as defensive coordinator.
Apart from the three transfers, some other tenured Badgers that could see plenty of time are Alexander Smith, Semar Melvin, and Ricardo Hallman.
Smith, who is currently dealing with a hamstring injury, has been praised by cornerbacks coach Hank Poteat, saying that Smith might be the most versatile corner, with his ability to play outside, in the slot, and safety.
Provided Smith is able to get healthy before the opener, there is a good chance he could line up opposite Shaw at starting corner. If he needs more time to heal, Leonhard and Poteat have plenty of talent to choose from.
At safety, Wisconsin is likely to start John Torchio and Hunter Wohler, who both made impacts last season both on defense and on special teams.
Filling in behind Torchio and Wohler will be transfer, Latu, who recorded 19 total tackles at Utah last season and three pass break-ups. Latu will also be rejoining his high school teammate Nick Herbig at Wisconsin.
Apart from Latu, Wisconsin has a pair of safeties that are returning from injuries in 2022, who missed the entire 2021 season - Titus Toler and Preston Zachman, both of which are having solid camps for the Badgers.
Overall, I expect the level of play we have become accustomed to from the Badger secondary to continue. Regardless of the fact that Wisconsin lost a pair of 4-year starters at corner and two talented safeties, the addition of four transfers with varying amounts of collegiate experience and the returning talent, should be more than enough to help Wisconsin continue its defensive dominance.
Now there may be some bumps along the way, but once this unit clicks, it should be a talented one. After all, it’s a unit coached by arguably one of the best defensive coordinators in college football.
Shaw is going to be the player to watch in this group, he’s coming off of back-to-back seasons where he tied for the team lead at UCLA in interceptions — three in 2021 and two during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Apart from Shaw, Wohler is going to be the other player to watch. The former 4-star recruit had a solid freshman campaign, recording 17 tackles, three for loss, and one sack when he was able to get some defensive snaps. Wisconsin fans have long been waiting for Wohler to get serious time on the field, and that will likely be coming this Fall.