Wisconsin's defense took another hit when cornerback Brett Bell went down with a shoulder injury that will end his season. The junior had established himself in just three games at the position as the Badgers best cover corner.
Now, questions abound for the defensive backfield. With Bell out, Levonne Rowan, who had been neck-and-neck with Scott Starks for the starting left corner spot, will return to right corner. Chuckie Cowans becomes the No. 3 corner, though true freshman Roderick Rogers may push him for that position.
The bigger question is how often, and in what form, the Badgers use their nickel defense. Despite playing a barrage of pass-happy teams, Wisconsin's use of five or six defensive back sets has fluctuated significantly from game-to-game. With Bell out of the lineup against North Carolina, the Badgers played nickel sparingly. When the nickel was employed, Cowans played right corner, with Rowan playing the slot at nickel back and Starks at left corner. Reserve safety Joe Stellmacher subbed in at ‘adjustment backer.'
With Bell's now done for the year, the Badgers could leave the nickel as it was against North Carolina, or they could move Cowans to the slot and leave Rowan at right corner, or return Stellmacher to the slot and have either linebacker Alex Lewis or LaMarr Watkins play adjustment backer. The possibilities become even more complex when Rogers, and freshman safety Johnny White, each of which has been mentioned as a candidate in the nickel, are factored in.
With a bevy of quality pass-heavy teams on the docket this season, continuing with Illinois Saturday, it will be trial by fire in the secondary.
New rule for the defensive line
Wisconsin's well-documented injury problems on the defensive line have placed the impetus on the Badgers starting four—Jonathan Welsh, Anttaj Hawthorne, Jason Jefferson and Darius Jones. The quartet has played nearly every snap the last few weeks with end Joe Monty and tackles Kalvin Barrett and Lyle Maiava minimally sparing the starters.
"We just told each other, ‘hey people are down and out now, we are the heart and soul of the team," Jones said. "Nobody else can get hurt and we just have to be ready to play every snap."
All things considered, the line has held up well.
"I think we have done a good job," defensive line coach John Palermo said. "I don't think we are great by any stretch of the imagination but I think we have done a good solid job and probably one of the more consistent positions on the field right now and we will continue to get a little bit better."
Cochart working back to health
"As soon as he is 100 percent I think he will play a quite a bit again but I don't think he is quite at 100 percent right now," Palermo said.
Barrett will continue to play defense
Regardless of when the Badgers depth returns along the defensive line, converted guard Kalvin Barrett is likely to continue to receive work at defensive tackle.
"Yeah I think so. I think Kalvin, had he been with me since day one, would be pushing for early playing time in the football game," Palermo said. "Kalvin is really explosive and really strong and he just needs to have better fundamentals but that is normal considering he has been an offensive lineman for so long."