Throughout the Badgers' fall training camp, Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez has lauded the team's depth in the secondary. The unit is an immeasurably better position than it was a year ago, when injuries to Brett Bell and Joe Stellmacher forced the team to take drastic measures, such as using receiver Brandon Williams as a spot cornerback.
Three things have converged to improve the depth this season. First, players like Stellmacher, who is backing up Johnny White at strong safety, and Bell, who has re-earned a starting cornerback job, are healthy. Bell was only cleared for full contact Tuesday, but had been taking part in most drills.
"As I mentioned the other day, at least he was able," Alvarez said. "He wasn't cleared for contact, he was able to do everything. I really don't think he missed a beat. I just wasn't ready to say that until I saw him tackle and until I saw him mix it up a little bit."
Bell was in the full-contact action Tuesday and Wednesday and played well. He showed signs of providing the physical presence at cornerback that he did before injuring his shoulder and taking a medical redshirt last season.
Bell is not the only cornerback that has stood out opposite standout Scott Starks.
"I feel good about the way a lot of those kids have been performing," Alvarez said. "I think [Chuckie Cowans] has done well, [Levonne Rowan] had his day."
Alvarez also singled out freshmen Allen Langford and Jack Ikegwuonu.
"I don't think we've ever been this deep at corner and same thing with safety," he said. "We've got some guys that understand the game back there and play it pretty well."
Some consistent coaching certainly has helped the veterans. The Badgers were on their third defensive backs coach in three years when Ron Lee took over the job last season. There were obvious growing pains, most pronounced in the Badgers' best corner, Starks. But as the season continued, Wisconsin's secondary played better and Starks played as well as any corner in the Big Ten. All told, the Badgers allowed just 13 touchdown passes last season, only six in their last seven games.
"You judge a coach many times by how his guys improve," Alvarez said. "You watch these guys last year, they got better as the season went on and they played better."
"Coach Lee has been great," Cowans said. "He came in and players were kind of skeptical. You don't know what kind of coach he is, how is he going to push you and do things like that. But after going through a spring with him and stuff we finally got to learn who each other was. And going through the whole season we finally clicked. Last spring it was, like, ‘OK, I understand what you're doing coach, let's do this. I'm here for you.'"
Alvarez said the unit coped well with its injury problems last season.
"Some others stepped in, performed well," he said. "[Lee's] doing a nice job with them and I think just his consistency and the players understanding him certainly has a lot to do with that."
UW notes: secondary depth rings true
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