After taking the backseat for a majority of the past three years, Robert Brooks has been enjoying time with the first-team defense during spring practices and has the inside track for the starting strong safety role for next season.
"I think he has all the abilities to start for us next year," defensive backs coach Ron Lee said. "It all depends on how he comes back from the summer and if he continues to do as well as he has this spring. He should be in that spot. He's improved tremendously…he's taken more of a leadership role and he's playing with confidence."
During his first two seasons as a Badger, Brooks contributed mostly on special teams. As a true freshman he saw time in 11 of 12 games and tallied 21 tackles. During his sophomore season he was on the field for all 14 games and recorded 31 tackles on the year.
"It's always a challenge," Brooks said regarding his work on special teams. "You always want to be in there playing a little bit more but special teams; we had some good guys in positions ahead of me. I just tried to contribute anywhere I could."
Last season, Brooks was able to break away from special teams and enjoy quality playing time in different safety slots. In 13 games, he contributed 31 tackles and recorded his first sack. For most of the season he was the backup to junior free safety Jim Leonhard and got in during nickel and dime situations. Once the Music City Bowl came around, though, Brooks got his first starting nod. With Ryan Aiello nursing an injury, Brooks left behind his free safety status and filled in as the starting strong safety.
Though he has been working as a free safety for most of his career, Brooks is not concerned with changing his focus to the strong safety position.
"Ever since I've been here at least our strong and our free safety have been interchangeable, where they can do the same things," Brooks said. "Free safety works strong safety stuff in practice and vice versa so it's not going to be too hard. Plus, Coach Lee makes sure that everybody in the secondary knows what everyone else is doing."
Brooks attributes his chance at a starting role to a number of things he has worked on over the years including consistency, tackling, aggressiveness and footwork. While these little things have helped, he also has a few years on his competition. Sophomore Johnny White has been working with the second unit and is fighting for his chance at the starting role. Though there is competition for a spot, it has been more of a learning experience for White.
"Rob has been here for a while, he knows the system real well and he knows the defense," White said. "He's basically a teacher on the field. Robert tries to teach me what he knows. So, basically our competition is he's basically my teacher. There's a very strong friendship between us."
Even though Brooks' time is almost up at Wisconsin, there is still much more he looks forward to accomplishing. Besides wanting to help the team tally a few more wins and work on his consistency he can likely look forward to being comfortable in a starting role during his final season.
"It's a new beginning," Brooks said. "A new chance for me to go out there and just do what I do the best I can every single day. Just go out there and just try to improve myself as a player and just do things right."