Heading into Wisconsin's Big Ten opener against Penn State, the Badgers' starting spot at strong safety is up in the air. Sophomore Johnny White started Wisconsin's first two games but was supplanted by senior Robert Brooks in the Badgers' win at Arizona Saturday.
"I think it really depends on how each of them practices," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "They are both showing signs of being very good football players but there are some inconsistencies that they've got to work on in their day-to-day routine."
White (6-foot-2, 217 pounds) took command of the position during fall training camp after Brooks suffered a leg injury. At the time No. 3 strong safety Joe Stellmacher was also still working his way back into form after leg and ankle injuries sidelined him last season.
Brooks said after the Arizona game that he was cleared to play in Wisconsin's first two games if necessary but that there was no need to force things. He had four tackles, one for loss, Saturday.
"It was real good coming back and feeling like it was the right decision," Brooks said.
White provides more of a physical presence on the field than Brooks (5-10, 186) and has more potential. Brooks, however, has played in 39 career games and is more adept in coverage. White did not play against Arizona but Bielema said that in some nickel or dime defensive situations the two players could see the field simultaneously.
"But right now both of them want to be the No. 1 strong safety, which is a good thing," he said.
Bielema also drew a comparison between the Brooks/White competition and the competition that took place during fall camp at will linebacker between Dontez Sanders and LaMarr Watkins. Sanders won that competition and is tied for second on the team with 16 tackles.
"Part of the reason that ‘Tez' has been able to do play so well and do some good things was competition brings out the best in people," Bielema said. "I think that's exactly what is going to come out and materialize out of that [strong safety] situation as well."
Strong safety competition will continue
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