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MADISON – Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen saw the Badgers had a big enough shortage in the secondary entering the 2013 season that three of the six recruits he signed on short notice in the 2013 recruiting class had a background in the secondary.
After starting to correct the issue during spring practices, Wisconsin's depth has undergone another face lift, as WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh reported redshirt freshman Reggie Mitchell had been released from his scholarship at Wisconsin.
Mitchell, who played high school football at Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh, will reportedly be joining the Panthers. Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph recruited Mitchell when he was at Wisconsin before becoming a part of Paul Chryst's first staff at Pittsburgh after the 2012 Rose Bowl.
As a senior, Mitchell was named first-team all-state defensive back, All-WPIAL defensive back and all-conference defensive back. He was also a team MVP as a senior after throwing for 800 yards and running for 1,420 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Mitchell traveled to every game last season for Wisconsin and was the team's emergency defensive back, a role he said prepared him for the spring where he consistently worked as the team's starting free safety next to Shelton Johnson.
"Last year was kind of tough," said Mitchell in April. "Wasn't the year I wanted, but was a great learning experience, just getting the experience to be out there with guys like Marcus Cromartie and Devin Smith. Just learning from them every day, getting the experience to travel without playing got me use to traveling, getting use to the game and pregame watching the older guys do it."
Mitchell started as a cornerback, but said he embraced the move to safety because the position felt more natural to him and allowed him more freedom to play.
"I can use my athletic ability a little more being in the open field," he said. "I feel more comfortable."
UW must replace three starters in the secondary – safety Shelton Johnson and cornerbacks Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie. Southward is the lone returning full-time starter. UW appears set early on giving junior Peniel Jean and sophomore Darius Hillary a chance to earn the starting cornerback spots, but the spot vacated by Mitchell is wide open.
Rising redshirt junior Michael Trotter started three games last season but his play was uneven. UW in February signed Donnell Vercher from Fresno City Community College. Vercher has two seasons of eligibility remaining. Wisconsin also signed Tekeim Reynard from Independence (KS) Community College in early May and could be an option.
It's also been reported that reserve junior tailback Jeff Lewis is being moved to safety to shore the depth.
As reported by BadgerNation yesterday, redshirt freshman quarterback Chase Knox has left the program to pursue playing football and baseball back on the West Coast.
"That was smart by Chase though," a source told us. "That kid could tear it up at a smaller level. Probably one of the hardest workers on the team, too."
Knox accepted a walk-on opportunity last year after he finished his career at San Diego Madison with 7,305 yards passing, going 456-of-813 with 75 touchdowns.
With senior Danny O'Brien also deciding to transfer, the Badgers' fall camp roster is expected to include five quarterbacks (senior Curt Phillips, sophomores Tanner McEvoy and Joel Stave and freshmen Thad Armstrong and Bart Houston).
Home Game Kickoffs Set
The Big Ten Conference announced two more start times for Wisconsin football games on Wednesday, including the season opener against UMass.
The Badgers will host the Minutemen on Saturday, Aug. 31, at 11 a.m. (CT) in the teams' first ever-meeting. The game will be televised by the Big Ten Network.
The start time for Wisconsin's matchup with Tennessee Tech the following week was announced, as well.
UW hosts the Golden Eagles on Sept. 7, also at 11 a.m. on BTN. The game marks Tennessee Tech's first visit to Camp Randall Stadium.