On Wisconsin's media day, Aug. 11, Joe Stellmacher said he could not be sure how he would react to playing football again until he stepped on the practice field and let loose.
"I think after the first two or three practices I think it will be second nature," he said then. "I think I'll be all right."
It has looked like second nature since Stellmacher returned to the practice field at the Bishop O'Connor Center, a field he starred on a year ago on his way to earning a spot in the nickel defense. The Badgers' impressive depth in the secondary will make it more difficult for Stellmacher to earn consistent playing time this year, but he has played well. While he is not a burner, Stellmacher has reasonable speed for a strong safety and his instincts and aggressive nature put him in position to make plays.
"I think he's come back much stronger than he was a year ago," Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez said. "His awareness is good."
"He just came back from the injury and just took off right where he left off," defensive backs coach Ron Lee said.
Stellmacher broke his right tibia and right ankle in the fifth game of the season last year. He has been held out of some full-contact work this fall and missed one practice entirely.
"He gets sore where he broke that leg," Alvarez said. "Every once in a while we've given him a day off and we've backed off a little bit at times when it gets sore. But with a little time off he's been able to bounce back."
Stellmacher certainly has not held back. If anything he is more aggressive than he was a year ago, a trait that can only help him as he fights for playing time. He is among three safeties that are battling for the starting strong safety position. If he falls short of that, Stellmacher will be in contention for spots in the nickel and dime defenses.
"He's out there competing and he doesn't want to come off the field," Lee said.
No holding back
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