Spring wrap-up: Cornerbacks

Part 8 of BadgerNation.com's 11-part look at the 2005 spring football practice season

News and notes — Top cornerback Brett Bell sat out all of spring with a knee injury. In his absence, senior-to-be Levonne Rowan and redshirt freshman Allen Langford took most of the reps with the first team. Jack Ikegwuonu anchored the second team and played some with the first team. Ben Strickland, who moved back to corner from free safety, also played on the second team. Antonio Freeman also took some reps with the second team, but he has a lot of ground to make up to crack the top five of this corps.

Spring MVP — Allen Langford. Continuing on a strong progression from last fall, the redshirt freshman was solid in coverage, both in man and zone responsibilities. Athletic and physical, he is a good all-around player who could press Rowan for a starting job or fill in admirably for Bell if the latter is not healthy at the start of the season.

Langford's youth showed at times, but he was nearly always in the right position to make a play. Had UW not boasted the depth, experience and health it did at corner last season, Langford would have played as a true freshman. He will be ready to play a key role this fall.

Springing ahead — Ben Strickland had an outstanding spring. Not the biggest, fastest or strongest player on the field, Strickland was occasionally out-muscled by bigger, more athletic receivers such as Jonathan Orr or Jarvis Minton, but more often than not Strickland got the better of his match-ups. A feisty, quick and technically sound player, Strickland was a playmaker, with more interceptions than any other corner this spring. An excellent special teams player, Strickland displayed his sure tackling skills as a gutsy run stopper. He may not be the most talented player on the field, but Strickland will eventually have a role in the Badgers' secondary if he keeps developing the way he has since arriving on campus in the fall of 2003.

Levonne Rowan was more consistent than he has been in the past. With his experience, size and athletic ability, Rowan should be on the verge of a breakout year in his final year on campus. But there are still some rough edges to his game that raise eyebrows. Rowan's biggest problem the past two seasons, though, was his consistency and confidence, both of which looked significantly better this spring.

Jack Ikegwuonu is just a half step behind his classmate Langford on the development curve. Another big, athletic corner, Ikegwuonu again displayed good instincts and playmaking ability. He had the best break on the ball of any of UW's corners and he will compete for a spot in the nickel as well as entering fall camp as the No. 4 corner, if Bell is healthy.

Pressing question — Despite losing standout Scott Starks and nickel back Chuckie Cowans, the Badgers appear to have a solid core of players at cornerback. The overall fortunes of the entire secondary, however, may hinge on Bell's health. A fifth-year senior-to-be, Bell is clearly UW's best returning defensive back, and quite possibly the Badgers' best returning defensive player. If he returns at or close to 100 percent, the Badgers' depth and flexibility looks strong with Rowan, Langford, Ikegwuonu and Strickland in the mix. Though that quartet is competent, it would be a decidedly different story without Bell to lock onto one receiver.

Looking ahead — After Strickland there is a substantial drop off on the depth chart. Freeman needs to step up and emerge as a capable reserve. There will be opportunities for true freshmen potential corners such as Shane Carter, Prince Moody and Aubrey Pleasant to work their way into the three-deep immediately.

Cornerback may end up being the strength of the defense this year if Bell is healthy. This is a key to UW's success this season. With an inexperienced front four, the Badgers linebackers and safeties will likely be more involved in stopping the run and UW will certainly blitz more this season, putting added pressure on the corners. Expect some missteps along the way, but the corners should be able to hold their own on balance.

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