Fall Camp Guide: secondary

Depth will be key to success of group that includes two established top-notch players

Starters returning – cornerback Scott Starks (career stats – 36 starts, 39 games, 185 tackles, 42 passes defended, 6 interceptions); free safety Jim Leonhard (27-39-209-37-18); cornerback Levonne Rowan (9-23-45-6-0).

More key returnees – strong safety Robert Brooks (2-38-83-4-0); cornerback Bret Bell, 6-0, 196, Jr. (5-27-46-2-0); strong safety Joe Stellmacher, 6-1, 210, So. (1-5-16-2-0); free safety Roderick Rogers, 6-2, 186, So. (6 tackles); strong safety Johnny White, 6-2, 211, So.; cornerback Chuckie Cowans, 5-8, 161, Sr. (4-23-31-8-1).

Newcomers – freshmen cornerbacks Antonio Freeman, 6-0, 185; Allen Langford, 5-11, 185 and Jameson Davis, 6-0, 191.

Also in the mix – redshirt freshman cornerback Ben Strickland, 5-9, 172; redshirt freshman safeties James Kamoku, 6-2, 207; Casey Hogan, 6-5, 194; and Brad Lantagne, 6-2, 191; sophomore free safety Zach Hampton, 5-10, 170.

Key departures – strong safety Ryan Aiello (11 starts, 81 tackles in 2003).

Additional departures – cornerback Johnny Sylvain, safety Pat Ellestad.

Top marks in 2003 Tackles - Leonhard, 98; interceptions - Leonhard 7; passes defended - Scott Starks – 19

Reasons to be excitedWisconsin returns essentially its entire secondary from 2003, aside from losing starting strong safety Ryan Aiello, who played out his senior season last year. All-American candidate Jim Leonhard highlights the group and Scott Starks is among the top corners in the Big Ten. The Badgers have tons of experience. Aiello's replacement, Robert Brooks, started twice last season and recorded more tackles, 31, than any other reserve on the team. The Badgers top reserves also return in 2003 and a trio of talented freshmen add to the team's depth.

Cause for trepidation – Rowan has athleticism and experience after starting last season but was inconsistent. His reserve, Bret Bell, is a starting-caliber corner who played very well last season before suffering a shoulder injury that flared up again in the spring. Wisconsin needs a healthy Bell to solidify the secondary.

Camp questions – In addition to Bell, the Badger faithful will have their eyes on Joe Stellmacher, who is recovering from a broken leg that kept him out of the Badgers' final eight games last season and held him out of spring workouts. If Stellmacher returns to his 2003 form, he will compete with Brooks and Johnny White for the starting strong safety job.

Player on the rise – Starks. After a rough beginning last season, Starks emerged as one of the elite defensive backs in the Big Ten. He deserved all-conference recognition last season and could be a first-team selection this year.

Player on the spot – The entire secondary, sans Jim Leonhard. The reason? Leonhard had seven interceptions last year while the rest of the team had five. Leonhard was the only Badger to have more than one pick. With the athleticism and experience Wisconsin has in the secondary, Leonhard should not be alone in the ball hawk department.

Forecast – Leonhard and Starks will be two of the best defensive backs in the Big Ten, if not the nation. Wisconsin's secondary, though, will only go as far as its depth will take it. If Rowan or Bell emerges as a solid, consistent starter opposite Starks, this could be one of the best secondaries around. Strong safety will be solid, whether Brooks, Stellmacher or White mans the position. Watch for Roderick Rogers to emerge in the nickel and dime.

BadgerNation.com projected depth chart

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