Secondary shuffle

Langford, Stellmacher upgraded to starters in defensive backfield

With less than 30 seconds remaining in the first half of Saturday's victory over Bowling Green, star Falcon quarterback Omar Jacobs found a streaking Corey Patridge along the sidelines for a 46-yard connection. Wisconsin senior cornerback Brett Bell let Patridge loose and junior strong safety Johnny White failed to pick him up in time.

The play did not end up making or breaking the shootout contest, but it did leave Wisconsin fans temporarily silenced and confused, as Jacobs led the Falcons to the final of their five first-half touchdown drives in just 33 seconds.

Breakdowns like that, in communication as well as technique, are the reason coaches released a depth chart on Monday that looks quite different from last week in one particular area – the secondary.

"We didn't have anyone that stepped up really," said defensive backs coach Ron Lee. "We had some guys that played pretty good at times, but we didn't have anyone that played a great game."

One change comes at left cornerback, where redshirt freshman Allen Langford replaces senior Levonne Rowan. Another will be at strong safety, where junior Joe Stellmacher will step into role for the time being, rather than White.

The coaching staff is not quick to openly criticize the performance of any of its individual players, but the moves suggest their discontent with the showing of a unit that surrendered just 167.2 passing yards per game last season but allowed Jacobs to throw for 458 on Saturday.

"People are going to think they can throw on us now, and we've got to stop them from even thinking that," Lee said.

Part of the reason the secondary did not resemble last year's squad on Saturday is because it is not last year's secondary. Only Bell, a senior captain, returns from the 2004 starting lineup, leaving a number of talented but somewhat unproven players to fill the spots.

The face of the unit appears far from set in stone, as coaches turned to players who likely did not earn starting positions as much as they inherited them due to problems. Playing ‘pretty good at times' typically does not merit a leapfrog on the depth charts.

"The changes were released on Monday, so that was right after we reviewed the film on Sunday," said defensive coordinator Bret Bielema, implying that the switches were made based on Saturday's underwhelming performance.

With head coach Barry Alvarez acknowledging this week that no one in the secondary played their best game; the coaches may just be trying to fire players up by shuffling the deck. It also remains possible that the current depth chart could still see some tweaking before game time.

"What we're going to do is put our best opportunity to get on the field and have success out there," Bielema said. "How they practice this week will directly reflect what happens on Friday.

"So it will be some of the changes you saw, but it may not be as dramatic."

One player who Bielema praised for his practice this week is Langford, who gained knowledge of the college game by redshirting last season and observing last year's successful unit.

"I really learned how to practice," said Langford. "They practiced well, and when they did, they went out and played well in the game.

"I learned how to use different techniques from them."

Those are two things coaches are dying to see out of the unit – correct technique and the tendency not to abandon the way they perform in practice all week. If it means starting young talent like Langford or fellow freshman Jack Ikegwuonu over older players like Rowan, then the Badgers appear prepared to do so.

"[The younger players] look good in practice," said Lee. "It is going to be a long season, so they have to be ready to go out there and do it."

Seniority will not be an issue so long as the backs keep receivers in front of them rather than surrender the deep play as they did multiple times on Saturday, says Lee. When they do force receivers to short patterns, he says they need to tackle and complete each play.

"We've got to finish everything we do," Lee said. "From the time we stretch."

"Football is a great game of concentration," Bielema noted. "If there is one lapse in one second on one play, it could result in a touchdown.

"That's what we need to have on our defensive side in general is consistent play for four quarters."

While not the most naturally gifted player on the field, consistency is what coaches hope Stellmacher can provide the team at strong safety. Alvarez has said in the past that the man he replaces this week, White, sometimes needs more patience and discipline in reading his keys and playing off them. If Stellmacher can play with the football intelligence he possesses, the Badgers may cut down on those unnecessary mistakes.

"Stellmacher has really brought his game around and has been able to progress on the defensive side of the ball," Bielema said.

At the other slots, Bell will attempt to elevate his game from last week and junior Roderick Rogers gets the nod at free safety. Rogers will be backed up by former walk-on Zach Hampton, who should see action as well, having started at the position last week when Rogers moved to strong safety in the nickel package.

It appears a team deep in options is far from knowing for sure which combination will gel. While acknowledging he is very confident in himself, as coaches suggest, Langford admits the secondary as a whole is a work in progress.

"We don't really know what the face of the unit is right now," Langford said. "I'm not too concerned about [keeping the starting job].

"I just plan on going out there and having a great day of practice and the unit as a group going out there and having a great game."

Eight players appeared in that group against Bowling Green during Jacobs' repeated sub-five minute marches of 70-to-80 yards downfield. Admittedly, the Falcons were slowed in the second half, but more of that might have been because junior running back Brian Calhoun ate enough clock to keep the ball out of Jacobs' hands.

This week Temple travels to Madison with a less heralded but established quarterback of its own. Mike McGann stands third all-time in school history with 4,701 passing yards. Like Lee said, the team needs to reverse the suggestion that they can be thrown on at will.

"I don't have to talk to them to be ready," Bielema said. "Defensive players in particular, I believe anytime they don't play well they want to get right back out there.

"I think our kids are chomping at the bit."

What the depth chart will look like next Monday is uncertain. It does not appear anyone has lost a starting job permanently, but each player will surely need to prove something to earn a spot for good.

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