News and notes – Free safety Jim Leonhard was held out of spring workouts, granting Roderick Rogers time with the first-team defense…..strong safety Joe Stellmacher did not practice due to the broken lower leg he suffered early last season. He ran lightly on the sidelines during most practices and is expected to recover in time for fall camp….Strong safety Robert Brooks joined Rogers in the spring-practice first-team secondary….Johnny White (strong) and Casey Hogan (free) served the second team….Zach Hampton (free), James Kamoku (strong) and Brad Lantagne (strong) also rotated in.
Spring MVP – Roderick Rogers filled in this spring for the All-American he will back up in the fall and played very well. Rogers was a menace to the Wisconsin quarterbacks, playing a deft centerfield. His instincts, athleticism and length enabled him to frequently track down passes and make a play on the ball. He had more interceptions than any other defensive back in scrimmage work.
A safety in high school, Rogers began his career at UW at cornerback, then switched back to safety during his freshman season. He looked like a natural patrolling the open field from the free safety position and his solid all-around coverage skills make him a prime candidate for the team's nickel defensive back role. The Badgers spent very little time working on nickel or dime defensive packages, though, so front-runners are far from established in this regard.
Springing ahead – Robert Brooks looked very composed as the starting strong safety. He is not a devastating hitter, but he has a lot of range, decent coverage skills and his tackling has improved. Most importantly, he is confidant.
Johnny White had an excellent spring capped by a very strong performance in the spring game. White covers a lot of ground and is an excellent hitter. He will continue to push for playing time though he said is content with a reserve role.
Casey Hogan moved ahead of Zach Hampton for the No. 3 free safety spot during spring workouts. With Leonhard on the sidelines, Hogan worked out with the second defense and performed admirably. He has decent range and a knack for getting to the ball.
Strong position, strong competition – Brooks is far from secure as the starting strong safety. He played very well this spring and did everything to win that spot, but so did White. And if Joe Stellmacher returns to full health he will be right in the mix. Stellmacher, after all, may have started the bulk of the 2003 season had he remained healthy.
While the position is open, it is far from a point of concern. Any of the three would do a fine job and all will likely see the field in some capacity. Among the spring competition, Brooks has a better understanding for the game and more range, while White has more pure athleticism and is more likely to make a big play. Kamoku will not compete for the starting spot this year, but he too showed improvement this spring and helps provide the position with a great deal of depth.
Final notes – Rogers is not quite Leonhard, but he is getting there. An excellent all-around player, the Badgers will hardly skip a beat when it comes time to replace Leonhard in 2005. In addition to backing him up this fall, Rogers will likely compete for a spot in the nickel and/or the dime defense. White, Stellmacher and corner Brett Bell are the other prime candidates for those roles.
Brooks will likely fend off the stiff competition this fall and maintain the strong safety position, giving Wisconsin three senior starters in the secondary. Brooks came on toward the end of last season and stepped up during bowl practices when replacing Ryan Aiello at the position. That progress continued this spring, putting Brooks well on his way to a successful senior season.
With so much depth at strong safety, Kamoku is a prime candidate for a position change, perhaps as soon as this fall. He has the big-time hitting ability, propensity for aggressive play and the body type that new defensive coordinator Bret Bielema likes to put at will linebacker.
Spring football wrap
Part 1 - wide receivers
Part 2 - defensive ends
Part 3 - offensive linemen
Part 4 - special teams
Part 5 - quarterbacks
Part 6 - running backs
Part 7 - tight ends