News and notes – Levonne Rowan and Bret Bell opened spring in competition for one corner spot, just as they did in the spring of 2003. Bell won that battle, but the shoulder he injured last fall flared up this spring, giving Rowan an edge heading into fall….Scott Starks returned to his starting spot at the other corner position….Ben Strickland and Chuckie Cowans received the bulk of the reps with the second team….Jameson Davis and Johnny Sylvain, the third-team corners this spring, received few reps in scrimmage situations.
Spring MVP – Levonne Rowan overcame a back injury suffered during the indoor track season and had a strong spring. Rowan appeared stronger this spring and was more physical. Always an exceptionally fast athlete (Rowan is currently ranked No. 7 in the Big Ten in the 100 meters during the outdoor track season), he did a better job this spring of using his speed and having confidence in his abilities to track receivers. Rowan had a slight edge over Bell for a starting corner spot from the beginning of spring workouts and he took advantage of the added reps he received after Bell was relegated to the sidelines.
Springing ahead – After a slow start, Scott Starks quietly put together one of the best seasons of any corner in the Big Ten in 2003. In the spring, Starks picked up where he left off in December and played at a very high level. He meticulously went about his tasks on the field, again playing a very prominent role on Wisconsin's defense. Starks did this a little more loudly than usual, though, augmenting his fine-tuned coverage skills with improved playmaking ability, including a few interceptions. He was more aggressive than in the past but continued to take only calculated risks, rarely taking himself out of the play.
Ben Strickland entered spring as the No. 7 corner and as a player who was unlikely to ever play other than on special teams. That assessment underwent massive revisions as soon as spring practices began. Strickland quickly supplanted freshman Jameson Davis on the depth chart and largely outplayed veteran Chuckie Cowans. He rotated in with the second defense prior to Bell's injury and was a fixture there afterwards. At a mere 5-foot-9, Strickland needs to work on keeping receivers in front of him and being more physical in tight coverage. Cowans (5-8) and Starks (5-10) should be good tutors in this regard. What Strickland brings to the table is adequate athleticism, good instincts and an aggressive demeanor. That combination helped him make a lot of plays and solidify his position as at worst the team's No. 5 corner and potentially No. 4 heading into fall camp.
Seeing red – Jameson Davis has the talent, football savvy and work ethic to thrive in the Big Ten. But not this year. The true freshman looked lost at times and was well below the curve athletically, the extra 20-25 pounds he has gained in the Wisconsin lifting regimen perhaps taking away some of his quickness. Still, Davis flashed his considerable talent in spots, including a solid performance in the spring game. There is no question that he is a young player worth watching and getting excited about, but barring huge strides by next fall it is almost a foregone conclusion that he will redshirt.
Health and competitions? – The Rowan/Bell matchup never materialized due to Bell's recurring shoulder problem. He is expected to return to full strength by fall camp, but the fact that he has not been able to stay healthy raises questions. Starks and Rowan look solid as the starters, but without Bell the team would face depth issues and potentially need to bring along freshmen more quickly. Allen Langford, for one, is a player who has been mentioned as one who will likely avoid a redshirt and contribute this fall.
A healthy Bell would be push Rowan for a starting job and would be the favorite to earn nickel corner duties, though Roderick Rogers, among others, will also push for that spot.
Cowans and Strickland could compete for a dime defensive back spot in the fall and have an outside chance of competing for a job in the nickel.
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
Part 8 - safeties