There was no time for D'Cota Dixon to get re-acclimated to college football, let alone a new position on defense. Making his return to the football field after shoulder surgery knocked him out after only three games in 2014, Dixon got a glimpse of what it would be like to start at safety for Wisconsin. Granted it came in an unforeseen circumstance, filling in for Michael Caputo after the senior suffered a concussion on the third play of the game against Alabama, but Dixon got a jump start on putting his linebacker career in the past.
Now entering fall camp, Dixon will be one of the handful of safeties new defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard will be counting on to help fill the void permanently left by Caputo and Tanner McEvoy at the safety position
Stats: 16 tackles (11 solo), one pass breakup, and two quarterback hurries in 2015.
Strengths: Dixon has shown a competitiveness and the ability to be a sound tackler, registering nine tackles in fill-in duty against Alabama. Appearing to be out of place as a linebacker, Dixon returns to a position he played in high school and feels more comfortable and natural in. Dixon is willing to be physical and that trait will come in handy this season when you consider the schedule Wisconsin faces.
Weaknesses: Dixon is entering his third year in the program but thru his first two years he has appeared in 16 career games, 13 of which came last season. The biggest question is can he stay healthy throughout the season? Dixon tried to play with a labrum issue as a true freshman before having surgery and shutting it down (his arm kept popping out of the ball-and-socket joint in his shoulder). This spring was critical to assert himself as a starter but he missed a lot of time with a groin injury. In addition to proving he’s capable of making calls and delivering plays as Wisconsin’s last line of defense, Dixon has to demonstrate he’s able to stay on the field.
Why he’s #16: Although Dixon has struggled to stay healthy in his time at Wisconsin, being able to play last season helped him to become more comfortable. Dixon primarily played on special teams last year but saw more time in different defensive package as the season progressed. The reps Dixon received last season and the limited ones he got in spring should help him in the coming months. With Wisconsin having few experienced options at safety, odds are Dixon – if he’s healthy – will be a likely candidate to start week one against LSU.
Overall: The glaring question that faces Wisconsin’s defense entering fall camp is will defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard be able to find two players to replace Caputo and McEvoy at safety. It will be difficult to replace two players with that much experience, not to mention two players that played virtually every down last season, but finding two starters is the main focal point before entering the month of September.
Dixon may have been thrown into the fire last season against Alabama but he is better prepared than a year ago. It will be important for Dixon to be able to apply what he learned from Caputo to the field this year. The experience Dixon gained toward the end of the season, registering at least one tackle over the last five games, should help him make the necessary jump in his third year with the program.