The Wisconsin Badgers saw significant turnover this offseason when they hired head coach Luke Fickell from the Cincinnati Bearcats, both on their coaching staff and with 15 new transfers to the program.
Included in those 15 transfers was sixth-year senior Jason Maitre, who was the lone addition via the transfer portal to a revamped cornerback room that lost three key contributors from a season ago: Jay Shaw, Cedrick Dort Jr., and Justin Clark.
Maitre, who transferred from Boston College, was expected to serve as Wisconsin’s lead nickelback in 2023, which is the role he’s assumed early on in defensive coordinator Mike Tressel unique variation of looks.
However, the former Bearcats defensive coordinator indicated that nothing is finalized regarding the cornerback room, which is experiencing lots of competition early in spring ball.
“We have a lot of competition going on right now, which means they are pushing each other, which is really good to see,” Tressel said.
Tressel related the current situation to the message he shared with the linebackers: go try and take the starter’s job away because competition brings out the best in everyone.
“We talked about [competition] in the [linebacker] room. The most respect you can show the guys who are the 1s, so Jordan [Turner] and Maema [Njongmeta] are the ones right now, the most respect you can give those guys is not by taking a backseat to them, [it’s] going to take their job,” Tressel said. “That’s the most respect you can give them because that’s going to push them to be their best and that’s what they want to be. [The 1s] want to be their best. I’m seeing that competition in the [cornerback] room.”
As for the corners, freshmen Jace Arnold and Jonas Duclona are names to watch, as they’ve been rotating in with the second-team defense, challenging backup corner Avyonne Jones, who has experienced ups and downs going against the second-team offense.
Granted, in each player’s fairness, they’ve been going up against the likes of Chris Brooks Jr., C.J. Williams, and Will Pauling, who have arguably been the top receivers on the team thus far.
Alexander Smith currently seems to be the lone lock in the secondary, having taken over the No. 1 role, with his playstyle suiting well to Tressel’s defensive scheme, where he can play press coverage.
But, Maitre has filled the role of the top nickel corner, and it doesn't seem to be too big of a competition for the role, as Amaun Williams and Braedyn Moore are the current backups.
Maitre provides experience, which, apart from Smith, lacks in the cornerback room following the departure of several veterans in the offseason.
Hallman, who initially started last season before falling out of the rotation, has taken all of the first-team reps opposite Smith and has looked the part in limited reps thus far, potentially emerging as the top candidate to start in the secondary.
However, Duclona and Arnold both possess good speed, which could be of value to the Badgers in the backend.
Don’t be surprised if either player, especially the former, earns some additional reps as the offseason goes along, although it seems that the Badgers have three favorites for the starting roles in Tressel’s defense.