Spring preview: Secondary

Badgers need to develop depth at cornerback

Starters returning: Senior strong safety Joe Stellmacher (10 starts in 12 games; 90 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 3 pass breakups), senior free safety Roderick Rogers (13 starts in 13 games; 56-0-3-11), sophomore cornerbacks Jack Ikegwuonu (4 starts in 13 games; 26-2-3-3) and Allen Langford (9 starts in 13 games; 39-2-2-4)

Other key returnees: Senior safeties Zach Hampton (1 start in 13 games; 23-0-1-1) and Johnny White (2 starts in 11 games; 28-0-1-0).

Starters departed: Cornerbacks Levonne Rowan (4 starts in 13 games; 27-0-2-7) and Brett Bell (11 starts in 13 games; 35-2-1-8).

Other key departures: None.

2005 position coach: Ron Lee

2006 position coach: Kerry Cooks

Spring storylines

This unit took its lumps last year and loses two of its top four cornerbacks. But the quartet of Stellmacher, Rogers, Langford and Ikegwuonu showed marked improvement as last season progressed. There is plenty of potential among these expected 2006 starters.

Rogers covers a lot of ground at free safety and is good enough in coverage to slide down and play cornerback in the slot versus wide receivers. He struggled at times making plays early last season but he showed a lot of improvement and should be one of the Big Ten's best safeties next year.

Stellmacher was one of the team's defensive leaders last season after winning the starting strong safety job in a competition with White. Stellmacher has decent athleticism, very good size, excellent fundamentals and superb toughness. He has good instincts and a nose for the football. Expect him to be more of a playmaker this season.

Ikegwuonu and Langford each had their fair share of growing pains last season, when they were thrust into a four cornerback rotation as redshirt freshmen. Both players are physical and fast. Ikegwuonu in particularly has the potential to be a special player, but they both could give opposing receivers fits as their development continues.

The above paints a glowing portrait of potential. But the secondary certainly needs to improve after a largely inconsistent 2005 campaign that was marked by far too many big plays allowed.

There is plenty of depth at safety.

Hampton is a quality reserve who can play nickel cornerback as well as free safety. A good athlete who does a terrific job on special teams but is sometimes overmatched by bigger or more athletic wide receivers.

With his extraordinary combination of size, speed and strength, White has looked all-world at times. But he struggled in coverage last season and his playing time ebbed and sometimes evaporated. Still, he showed signs of brilliance, such as his play in UW's win over Michigan. He was confident and extremely impressive during fall camp last season, but he had a really difficult time carrying that momentum into the season. This spring affords him another opportunity to put the pieces together. At the very least he is a good insurance policy for Stellmacher and an excellent special teams player.

Sophomore Shane Carter got his feet wet last season and could play free safety or corner.

Sophomore Aubrey Pleasant was a key player on special teams last year and will again be the No. 3 strong safety.

Junior strong safety James Kamoku gives the team good depth and another special teams ace.

There is precious little depth at cornerback.

Heading into spring practices, the top backup for Langford and Ikegwuonu is probably junior Ben Strickland. Originally a walk-on, Strickland was on scholarship last season. An outstanding special teams player, Strickland is a feisty competitor with decent athletic ability who does his best to make up for a lack of ideal size.

Carter has the ability and size to emerge as a top reserve at cornerback, if UW chooses to play him at that position.

Freshman Prince Moody, who was a middle linebacker in high school, played cornerback on the scout team while redshirting last season and showed promise, but was very raw.

Several true freshman cornerbacks will have their chance to compete for playing time in fall training camp and several walk-ons will be part of the mix this spring.

Sophomore Jameson Davis has bounced around between safety and cornerback and has had a tough time moving up the depth chart. This spring could present a golden opportunity to make a run at the depth at cornerback.

Davis and cornerback Antonio Freeman were arrested in the offseason and were suspended indefinitely after the car Davis was driving was pulled over in Jefferson County going more than 100 miles per hour. Davis, who still faces misdemeanor charges for resisting an officer and being party to the crime of marijuana possession stemming from the traffic stop, was reinstated on appeal. He pled no contest to the speeding ticket on March 15 and was fined $501.

Freeman is still suspended indefinitely; he is charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

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