In preparing to write a preseason report on the Wisconsin football team, Badger Nation subscriber WisVegas requested that I respond to a few questions regarding the UW secondary. Here are those questions, followed by my responses. If anybody else has questions, you are more than welcome to post them on the message boards at any time.
Who are the starters at both cornerback positions?
The starting cornerback positions changed every two or three practices throughout the spring. But when it was all said and done, the starters were Scott Starks and Brett Bell. Backing them up are Levonne Rowan and Chuckie Cowans. Rowan started the spring starting at right cornerback, but he was quickly demoted in favor of Bell, who had a breakout spring.
But don't count out Rowan this fall. He is one of the best athletes on the entire UW roster, and despite being rundown by Jim Sorgi on the biggest play of the Spring Game, he is also one of the team's fastest players. Cowans spent limited time as a starting cornerback this spring, but he hasn't been consistent enough to be a major factor for a starting position.
Why the switch positions for Jim Leonard and Ryan Aiello? (Leonhard is now listed as the starting free safety, and Ryan Aiello is the starting strong safety, swapping positions from last year)
This change in positions was a little bit overblown. The fact is, Jim Leonhard spent much of the 2002 season playing free safety, and Ryan Aiello spent a considerable amount of time at strong safety last season. Defensive Coordinator and Secondary Coach Ron Lee simply decided to make the switch a permanent one this spring.
But the switch is significant for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it puts both players in a better position to take advantage of their best attributes. Leonhard will be able to blitz off the edge, roam free in the secondary and make more plays on the ball, giving him a chance to improve on a season in which he recorded the most interceptions in the country.
At the same time, the switch allows Aiello to play a more physical style, playing the run and taking on tight ends.
"There are situations where, because of motion or a shift, they could end back like they were last year, so it's really not that big of a difference," Lee said. "It's basically the formation that makes it a little different."
Who stepped up and moved up in depth chart during spring ball?
The biggest move up the depth charts was Bell. Longtime readers of Badger Nation (and Inside Wisconsin) know very well that many times, highly-touted high school players simply do not pan out at the college level for one reason or another. This spring was Bell's final opportunity to avoid being placed in that category, and he delivered.
While Rowan has a very bright future with the Badgers, Bell is going to be awfully difficult to unseat as the starting right cornerback. Throughout the spring, Bell was in the right position to make plays consistently, and he often made athletic pass breakups or interceptions, taking a major step forward from where he was the past two seasons. Bell is going to surprise a lot of people this season.
According to some players and coaches, Robert Brooks had the best spring practice of anybody on either side of the ball. Brooks was all over the field making plays on a regular basis, and if he wasn't competing against an All-American and the nation's leading interception leader (Leonhard), he would have quickly earned a starting spot. As it stands now, Brooks is the starting nickel back, but if he continues to surge like he did in the spring, the UW coaching staff is going to have some tough decisions to make. Brooks is not a player that should be on the sidelines when he's playing at that level.
Any others to watch during fall camp?
The darkhorse during fall camp is Tony Moss. Moss was such an electric athlete before he got hurt last summer that the UW assistant coaches had some very spirited debates on where he should be placed. Moss could have contributed at running back or wide receiver, but his talents can be used most effectively in the secondary.
When he returns to health this fall, provided he can knock off the rust, he could factor into things immediately. Coaches Ron Lee and Kevin Cosgrove both mentioned Moss regularly throughout the spring, anxious to see how he will respond. If he shows the same promise that he showed in high school and in workouts last summer, a healthy Moss could be a tremendous weapon.
Another guy that improved his stock this spring was Johnny Sylvain. It's taken Sylvain a while to get adjusted to the Big Ten, and he's suffered through some injuries that have held him back. But he looked much improved this spring, and he will definitely be in the mix for a spot on the two-deep this fall.
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