Setting the Stage
After four years, 54 games and 51 career starts, Sojourn Shelton is off to the N.F.L. and leaves an important piece for Wisconsin to replace. Wisconsin has senior Derrick Tindal on one side and his 38 career games but a void at the other starting corner spot and the nickel corner that will need to replaced, especially now that Natrell Jamerson has been moved to safety.
Player to Watch: Nick Nelson
Described by his head coach as a “real good football player,” junior cornerback Nick Nelson appears to be the favorite to land the other starting spot. The 5-11 junior sat out last season after transferring from Hawaii and has played in 23 games (21 starts) at the FBS level.
Nelson plays aggressive and confidently. In his sophomore year he finished with 53 total tackles and 15 pass breakups. Those numbers would have led UW’s corners last season. After a year working with defensive coordinator/secondary coach Jim Leonhard, Nelson has improved his technique and strength to where he can play press coverage or off the ball and still make a play. He will be given every opportunity to win the job.
“With his transfer here and sitting out, he didn’t play in games, but we saw him play a lot of football,” Chryst said. “I think he makes us better in the back end … I think he’s a really skilled cornerback.”
Story Line to Watch: Freshman Growth
After Nelson and Tindal, there’s a dramatic drop off in experience at the cornerback spot. With Titus Booker out this spring, the other four corners listed on the spring roster are freshmen. Madison Cone and Faion Hicks are 5-10 or smaller but have good awareness, coverage techniques and vision for their ages. Caesar Williams was close to playing last season until it was decided midway through last season to preserve his redshirt. He was listed as being out for spring but participated in team drills Tuesday.
One key player to watch is Dontye Carriere-Williams, who comes from Fort Lauderdale (FL) St. Thomas Aquinas and won a pair of state championship his final two seasons. Before leaving, Shelton heaped praise on a player who reminded him a lot of how he was as a young freshman at Wisconsin.
“He’s such a confident player,” Shelton said in December of the redshirt freshman. “He’s still got some learning to do, but he’s been learning at a fast pace and a high level. It’s going to be fun. He’s going to continue to make plays. That’s what it’s all about. When he gets his shot in the spring, he’s going to be a solid contributor going into the future.”
End-of-Spring Goal: Depth
The Badgers were tested at points last year with their depth and held on for the most part, but it certainly wasn’t an area of immense strength. Wisconsin has a pretty good idea who its two starters are going to be (Tindal and Nelson) but the rest of spots are wide open. Williams will likely get some reps if he’s healthy with his core injury, and the Badgers could slide senior Lubern Figaro over to the spot as well. He took that spot- and started four games - when Jamerson broke his leg in the nonconference season and played decent but he looks more like a natural safety. However, UW might not have a choice in the matter if the young players on the roster can’t handle the task at hand.