Rounding out our position previews for the Wisconsin Badgers, is the secondary group. This group has been a rollercoaster at times in recent years, and more so then ever Jim Leonhard has to have this group playing at a high level this season. Thanks to a few cornerback transfers, Leonhard has gone on the record saying he believes this may be the deepest cornerback group he’s had during his time in Madison.
Jim Leonhard said he might have the deepest group of cornerbacks he's had as defensive coordinator.
Impressive considering the #Badgers lost a pair of four-year starters.
UW signed three transfers and returns senior Alexander Smith.
— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) August 2, 2022
After losing both Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams, who both were named to All-Big Ten honors, the Badgers went to the transfer portal for help. Jay Shaw from UCLA, Justin Clark from Toledo, and Cedrick Dort Jr from Kentucky. Jay Shaw has already received praise for his spring performance, and I expect him and Clark to start on the outside for the Badgers. Jay Shaw has also already been linked with the 2023 NFL draft and I can’t wait to see him suit up for the Badgers this fall. These transfer bring a sense of maturity to a young and rebuilding group.
Behind the three transfers, the Badgers have some familiar names who will see more action this season. Cornerbacks coach Hank Poteat, has made it clear that Alexander Smith has been the leader for this group. Being the longest tenured Badger at this position, Smith might be the most versatile in this group. Being able to play outside, in the slot, or even safety if needed.
Another familiar name returning is Semar Melvin. Semar has shown flashes of promise on the field, which adds even more depth for the Badgers at this position. Semar is also one of my favorite Badgers off the field for his continued work in the community and his courage to speak out about his mental issues. Here’s a cool video the Badgers made showing this other side of Semar.
"No matter how alone you think you are, nobody's ever truly alone."
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) January 17, 2022
Replacing Safety Experience
One of the major headlines for this secondary group is going to be the play at the safety position. The Badgers will be missing two seniors, Scott Nelson and Collin Wilder. John Torchio and Hunter Wohler saw the first team reps for the majority of Spring practice. The key to this groups success, is no question the play of these two. Torchio looks to build on his impressive season last year where he tied for the team lead with three interceptions. Not to mention, his games against Purdue and Northwestern where he earned grades over 90 according to Pro Football Focus. Wohler was used more last season as a special teams player. However, when he did get some snaps, he recorded 17 tackles, three for loss, and one sack.
Yes, we see you John Torchio!
— SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl (@LasVegasBowl) December 31, 2021
Travian Baylock was sure to be in the rotation at Safety this season, but unfortunately suffered an injury early on in spring practice. This made room for Utah transfer and Nick Herbig’s former High School teammate, Kamo’i Latu. Latu’s most impressive perfoemance at Utah came in a game against USC where he racked up 10 tackles and even earned Pac-12 Freshman of the week honors for his performance.
Redshirt Freshman walk-on, Owen Arnett made some noise this spring when Leonhard used him as his third safety in certain packages. I expect both Arnett and Latu to backup Torchio and Wohler. Don’t forget about Alexander Smith either who we mentioned earlier can play some safety if needed.
It will certainly be a challenge for Jim Leonhard, who is replacing eight starters on defense. Don’t expect for this secondary unit to click right away, but thanks to some transfers, Wisconsin should have a good secondary once again.
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