MADISON - Wisconsin entered fall camp last season with a fortified front seven but a plethora of questions surrounding the secondary. How would the Badgers replace three senior starters who started big games and played in Rose Bowls, and would they be able to hold up due to how young and inexperienced they were going to be?
Fast forward a year and the main concern heading into fall camp with the secondary is who’s going to start at safety opposite of Michael Caputo, who a year ago provided the answers.
“Last year I was the question mark guy,” Caputo said. “Internally, I think the team knew what they wanted to do with me. They knew the position, the type of guy I was and how I play. They wanted someone in the box making tackles and in the backfield and they knew I could fulfill that role. I just had a lot to prove last year.”
Caputo proved his worth. An honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, the redshirt sophomore registered 63 tackles that ranked him second on the team behind Chris Borland. One of the breakout players on the defense from a year ago, the expectations have risen for him to make that next jump in his development.
“I just keep my head down and individually get better and continue what I’ve done to get to this point in my career,” Caputo said. “If I do that I know I’ll continue to improve a long with the rest of the secondary.”
Caputo started one game as a redshirt freshman, but that experienced didn’t sourly. Struggling to much the speed and the complexities of the game, Caputo was benched in favor of Shelton Johnson, who Caputo was replacing because of a broken arm.
Caputo’s addition to the secondary helped the Badgers become stingy on third down. Holding opponents to just a 40.7 completion percentage and 4.4 yards per attempt on third down, the Badgers were even better on third-and-10 or longer, ranking third nationally after allowing just 122 yards and 3.6 yards per attempt.
But with Wisconsin having to rebuild its front seven, it will put pressure on Caputo and the rest of the secondary in coverage. It will also mean that Caputo is going to become one of the leaders for the defense.
“We have a lot of leaders on this team, and it’s not just me,” Caputo said. “We lead ourselves in the sense that we make sure we continue to motivate ourselves and with our position group. To make sure we put in good work every day at our position. We as a secondary constantly preach we need to improve in the back end because we are the last line of defense.”
Wisconsin originally wanted Caputo at outside linebacker in the beginning of spring to take advantage of his natural instincts as a pass rusher. That plan was scrapped after only a few workouts when the lack of depth became a glaring problem. While the UW staff will have many inexperienced players battling for playing time, Caputo has been impressed with the options at the team’s disposal.
“All of the safeties have really impressed me in the offseason,” Caputo said. “They all did really well learning the scheme and athletically they’re all great athletes. The guys right now - Leo Musso, Peniel Jean, A.J. Jordan and Vonte Jackson - are all doing well. Lubern (Figaro) and Austin (Hudson) are coming along as freshman and they’re doing real good things.”
Even with Caputo playing at such a high level last year, he still feels like he has things to prove as a player. He spent the summer working on his man-to-man coverage, studying defenses in the film room and getting to level in his game where everything becomes muscle memory.
With all of the extra work Caputo has put in over the summer, he feels ready that he can take the next step.
“I’ve gained weight and just got a lot stronger in the weight room and my footwork is a lot faster but that just comes with reps and training,” Caputo said. “I just personally feel good about this camp and season. I’m ready to get going and to play football”