Yep, it's that time of the year again…. It's spring football in the air as February has turned into early March and with that means our annual look at the roster and what we all should be looking for this spring. Only unlike past years this spring is just a bit different than what we've experienced in the past as we welcome Gary Andersen to his first actual on-field coaching duties with the Badgers.
It also means it's time for us to break down the Badgers position by position as we wind down to next week Saturday and the beginning of the Badgers spring expedition that ends April 20th at Camp Randall Stadium.
With that it only feels right that we begin in an area that will be one of the more intriguing this spring – the Secondary. After all this is arguably the group that is the biggest toss up of them all on the entire team. So, let's explore the unknown that is the Badgers 2013 Secondary.
Lost, but not forgotten: Marcus Cromartie (CB;) Devin Smith (CB); Shelton Johnson (S)
Starter(s) Still Here: Dezmen Southward (S)
New Faces for Spring: Sojourn Shelton (CB); Keelon Brookins (CB), Reggie Mitchell (CB)
These two are early enrollee's and both were highly sought after recruits with Shelton coming to UW over offers from Miami and FSU among others. Brookins had offers from many Big Ten schools and both were rated as 247 composite 3 star corners in the 2013 class.
For Mitchell this will be his first spring camp as a Badger, enrolling last fall and redshirting.
Battles to be Had: Cornerback & Free Safety
Losing both of your starting corners sucks, no matter what team you are on, however it could be a blessing in disguise for the Badgers. I know, what the hell are you talking about Andy? Well, for one it's a brand new system coming into place and there is a ton of youth at the corner slots. Just how young of a group is this? Well, not a single corner on the roster has a start in their careers and seven corners are either freshman or sophomores entering 2013.
Call me crazy, but that's a good thing for coaches Ben Strickland and Bill Busch – they can mold that youth into what they expect out of their players in their schemes, no? So, watching that youth develop over the course of spring and in the spring game will be huge.
The early leaders to replace the departed Cromartie and Smith at corner are Peniel Jean (Jr) and Darius Hillary (So), who saw some time last year behind the starters. Hillary saw action in all 14 games last year, recording 23 tackles and 2 passes broken up and passes defensed, while Jean saw action in just 5 games. However, don't count out Devin Gaulden (Jr) either – he's been a bit below the radar, but did see action in 4 games last year.
Other names to watch for at corner would be the previously mentioned Shelton and Brookins along with Hugs Etienne, Reggie Mitchell and possibly Michael Caputo depending on where the staff sees him fitting in.
Over at the Free Safety spot this battle is going to be very, very interesting and probably won't be close to settled this spring as UW will bring in Donnell Vercher from the JUCO ranks this fall and the staff is high on his ability to contribute right out of the gate. However, should someone like Michael Caputo or Michael Trotter flash this spring it sure will give Bill Busch some things to think about heading into fall camp.
Name to Watch: Reggie Mitchell, CB
Mitchell redshirted last season along with Hugs Etienne, but is much bigger than Hugs at this point in their careers and could be the more intriguing of the two at least in 2013. He's 6'0" and 177lbs. according to the official Badgers spring roster and he was a stand out for me on tape entering college. With the corner positions wide open it's important that the young guys make a name for themselves if for no other reason that to show that this team can have some depth at the position. Mitchell is a name to watch that could spring into the conversation for a starting spot and at a minimum could add some quality depth early on in his career at the UW.