Spring wrap-up: Safeties

Part 6 of BadgerNation.com's 11-part look at the 2005 spring football practice season

News and notesRoderick Rogers and Johnny White took the bulk of the reps with the first team at free and strong safety, respectively, while fellow juniors Zach Hampton and Joe Stellmacher served on the second team.

Third string strong safety James Kamoku missed much of spring with an injury. Jameson Davis converted from cornerback to safety and served primarily as the third-team free safety.

Ben Strickland, who converted back to corner after spending time last season at free safety, could still play safety in a pinch, particularly in nickel or dime situations.

Spring MVP — Zach Hampton: the walk-on will go on scholarship in the fall. He proved why this spring, making as many big plays as any athlete on either side of the ball. In one two-day stretch Hampton intercepted five passes and at times he was UW's best cover man regardless of position. He will push Rogers for the starting free safety spot throughout fall camp. If he remains a No. 2, however, Hampton will have an inside track at a job in the nickel. There is always somewhere for a ball hawk to get on the field and that describes Hampton in a nutshell. A former cornerback, Hampton also gives the Badgers the versatility to be able to line up in the slot and lock on a receiver man-for-man.

Springing ahead — All of the top four safeties made strides this spring. Johnny White continued to be a fierce run stuffer and he improved his coverage skills, though he still had some struggles in that regard.

Rogers did not match Hampton's interception totals, but he was typically strong in coverage. He also showed an improved ability to fill against the run, particularly late in spring.

Joe Stellmacher could start for a lot of teams, but he may have a tough time pushing past White at strong safety. Stellmacher, though, is another player who will command playing time. He does not excel in any regard, but he is good at every facet of the position and is better in coverage than White.

Pressing questions — The safety quartet has a tall task in replacing Jim Leonhard and Robert Brooks. But this group has the kind of athleticism, size and skill that would make most previous Badger teams rather jealous. The pressing question is one of experience: Stellmacher was a key contributor before breaking his ankle and leg in the fifth game of the 2003 season and White started the first two games of 2004, but that is about it as far as significant playing time is concerned. All four top safeties, however, have been involved in a lot of special teams the past two seasons.

As talented as this group is, however, there were too many rough edges for comfort. UW's receivers were able to work behind the safeties too often and there were some blown coverages as well. Expect most of the mistakes to be corrected by opening day, but this will remain an inexperienced group that will slip up more often that the Badgers are accustomed.

Looking ahead — Obviously the most important question is who starts and what roles do the reserves fill. These competitions are bound to go deep into fall camp but the presumption here is that Rogers and White will hold on, with Hampton earning the nickel spot as UW's No. 5 defensive back. In any case, all four should play in some capacity.

Because of the competitions at the top the depth looks pretty good, but the Badgers would certainly benefit from an accelerated development curve from Kamoku and Davis, who will likely enter the season as the third-team safeties.

It is highly unlikely that a true freshman will earn playing time at safety. But the class of 2005 prospects who could end up playing safety include Prince Moody, Anthony Pleasant, Shane Carter, Jonathan Casillas and Jarmal Ruffin. All five of those player, however, could also end up at another position.

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