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Who are the favorites to earn playing time in the secondary for the Badgers in 2023?

With some key turnover, who will earn the majority of snaps on the backend for the Badgers?

The Wisconsin Badgers are entering a unique offseason, having changed their entire coaching staff after hiring head coach Luke Fickell from the Cincinnati Bearcats, while losing some key talent, of which some came in the secondary of the defense.

Last season, the secondary was arguably the weakest area for the Badgers, specifically the cornerbacks, because of the tendency to give up bigger plays.

However, with a new coaching staff, as well as some newer faces, who will be the ones earning more playing time in 2023?

Last week, media spoke to co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Colin Hitschler, who raved about the incumbent group of safeties on the roster, applauding their diverse skillsets.

“You have, you know, a group of great guys. I think they all have different skillsets, they’ve all played a different amount,” Hitschler said.

As for players to keep an eye on, Hitschler name-dropped both Hunter Wohler and Travion Blaylock as players that he anticipated would make an impact in 2023.

“Hunter Wohler’s, you know, probably was the starter to begin the year and got banged up. But he’s a very, very talented player. [Travion] Blaylock played a ton of ball here, he’s coming back from a new injury, but he’s, you know, from all reasons going into last season, he was going to be an integral part of the defense, and he’s going to be for us.”

Additionally, Hitschler pointed towards the other players on the roster, highlighting Kamo’i Latu, who had a solid second half of the year, as well as the backups who each well have a chance to compete.

[Kamo’i] Latu had a great season, you know, in a situation where he came in really late in the process [via the transfer portal],” said Hitschler. “You know, [Preston] Zachman, Owen Arnett, Austin Brown, they’re all kids that have played roles that are extremely talented. And then, you add some young guys to the mix that are talented as well. So, it’s a fun group. They all love ball and that’s evident, and they all work their butt off, which is fun. What more can you ask for a coach?”

What is Hitschler looking for in players that could alter playing time? Versatility, which the Badgers have been dependent on even during the Jim Leonhard era.

“Versatility is key to our position in this defense and in Jim Leonard’s defense. The ability to fit the box, play the post, blitz off the edge, cover-man, all those things were asked to be done in the past. So, the skills are there. It’s just, you know, changing a word here or alignment here and rolling, so yeah, it’s very important.”

Looking back at Cincinnati’s film from a season ago, the defensive staff loved utilizing versatile safeties, sometimes opting to go with two nickel cornerbacks on the field at the same time, or incorporating nickel/linebacker hybrid players in their defense.

The rotations and tendency to play Cover-3, as well as man-coverage, requires safeties to be able to play good coverage, but box safeties will require good instincts and the ability to thump in the run game.

I envision Hunter Wohler having a good role on the 2023 team, as he can play the role that Deshawn Pace played for Cincinnati a season ago as a box safety/nickel hybrid, which is reminiscent of what Bryan Cook played in that system two seasons ago.

Additionally, Travion Blaylock’s track speed could buy him more playing time, especially with the ground safeties having to cover sideline-to-sideline at times, but there should be several pieces fighting for playing time.