Wisconsin's fall camp—even without full pads—has been defined by intensity and physical play. And no one has been more consistently lively, more consistently aggressive, more consistently in-your-face than sophomore strong safety Johnny White.
White barely touched the field in two games last season, when Wisconsin's injury-thinned secondary necessitated that the Badgers remove his redshirt. He was not quite ready for extensive action last season, but during fall camp this year he has looked poised to win the starting strong safety job sooner rather than later.
Senior strong safety Robert Brooks has taken every snap with the No. 1 defense and has had a good camp. He works well in tandem with free safety Jim Leonhard and is a solid all-around player. The Badgers' strong safety depth has also been buoyed by the return to health of sophomore Joe Stellmacher, who served as Wisconsin's nickel back and started one game before breaking his right tibia and ankle five games into last season.
All three are legitimate Big Ten starters. White, though, may bring the most to the table in terms of potential.
Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez did not address the strong safety depth chart when meeting with reporters following practice Saturday, but did offer a glowing report when asked about White's development.
"He's so much stronger right now than he was a year ago," he said. "Johnny's 217 pounds. We knew how physical he was. I think he understands the position right now, really has a lot of substance about him. You know, he fills like a linebacker … I didn't know about his coverage ability. I knew he'd fill and I saw him come off the hash and make a play on the boundary the other day. I've seen his range against the pass. I'm really impressed with him. … And it's very encouraging for the depth in our secondary."
The depth Wisconsin appears to have built in the secondary means the Badgers should not need to use receiver Brandon Williams as a cornerback this year, as they did last season.
"As early as it is in camp, I think it really appears to me this may be as deep as we've been in the secondary," Alvarez said. "I really don't need (Williams playing defensive back). I like some of the freshmen. I would feel that physically they can hold up and help us. With Joe coming back, and at full speed, and the way Johnny White has progressed, I feel very good about safety. I don't think we'll need him there."
White making his presence felt
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