News and Notes: The starters are Brett Bell and Levonne Rowan at cornerback, Johnny White at strong safety and Roderick Rogers at free safety… Redshirt freshmen Allen Langford and Jack Ikegwuonu received reps with the first team at corner and are the top reserves… The second-team safeties remain Joe Stellmacher at strong safety and Zach Hampton at free… True freshman Shane Carter is the fifth safety and the fifth corner… Each of the top nine defensive backs is likely to see playing time, with spots in the nickel and dime still up for grabs… Ben Strickland and Antonio Freeman are "in the depth" at corner… True freshman Prince Moody received reps with the second team at corner… True freshmen Aubrey Pleasant and Jonathan Casillas (who began practicing the last week of camp after recovering from a broken foot suffered in July) and sophomore James Kamoku are reserves at strong safety… True freshman Jarmal Ruffin and redshirt freshman Jameson Davis are reserves at free safety.
Fall MVP: Johnny White. The junior has improved his coverage skills and now is solid when locked up with a tight end. He is a big, strong, athletic player who made a lot of plays throughout camp. After suffering from gaffes in coverage in the past, White was pretty steady and he has developed good ball skills. He remains an excellent tackler who can deliver intimidating hits.
Player on the rise: Roderick Rogers. Despite holding onto the No. 1 spot at free safety, it was tough to find Rogers on the field for the first week or so of camp. But then he stepped it up several notches and began to make as many plays as anyone, filling well against the run and closing on receivers to knock away passes. Originally a cornerback two years ago, Rogers spent significant time at corner with the No. 2 defense and played well in that role as well. He has good enough cover skills to come down in the slot and check receivers, both from his free safety position or as a nickel back.
Questions answered: The biggest question was how well Bell's right knee would hold up after undergoing surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in January. This cannot be answered definitively until the season starts, but so far, so good. Bell did not pick up where he left off last season, but he had a good camp. The Badgers held him out of some scrimmage sessions and often kept him out of afternoon segments on two-a-day practice days as a precautionary measure. It is remarkable how quickly Bell returned from the injury.
The next question was who would win the starting spots at safety. The junior class quartet are all starting caliber players, but Rogers and White solidified themselves in those roles this fall. However, Hampton and Stellmacher will play a lot and are stalwarts on special teams. One possibility in nickel is for Hampton to come in at free safety, while Rogers drops down to nickel back or corner.
Questions remain: How will the depth shake out, particularly in the nickel? It is a very open-ended question. Ikegwuonu looks to have the inside track at the nickel back spot, but Hampton, Langford, Carter and Stellmacher are all in the mix. Carter opened camp at corner and played regularly on the second defense, then moved to free safety and worked in with the second defense and second-team nickel defense. Like Rogers, Carter's versatility is a substantial asset. Carter was one of the Badgers' most impressive true freshmen at any position.
How long will the Badgers' inexperience show? Really, only Bell and Rowan have substantial playing time to their credit. This secondary has great potential but there are going to be more breakdowns than last year.
Final thoughts: UW has good talent in the secondary but youth and inexperience will make for some tough stretches. Expect the Badgers to use as many as 10 defensive backs regularly, with a player like Ben Strickland probably the next in line for playing time.
Bell and Rowan are more than capable when they are at the top of their games, but can they stay healthy? Carter, Ikegwuonu, Langford, Hampton, Rogers, White and Stellmacher all can make the big play, but will suffer some lapses too. By season's end, if this secondary stays reasonably healthy, it will be pretty good. But there are going to be considerable growing pains along the way.