Spring Position Analysis: Secondary

With two players recovering from ACL tears and another player deciding to transfer, the cornerback position is littered with inexperience while the safety position is in a heated battle.

Starters returning: Junior Shane Carter and Aubrey Pleasant

Other key returnees: Junior Chris Maragos, Prince Moody and Josh Nettles, sophomore Niles Brinkley, freshman Mario Goins.

Starters departed: Jack Ikegwuonu

Other key departures: Kim Royston

Injured Players: Aaron Henry and Allen Langford

2008 position coach: Kerry Cooks

Spring storylines:

The storylines involving the defensive secondary run deep and plentiful.

First, starters Allen Langford and Aaron Henry sit on the sidelines, trying to recover from ACL tears that happened against Ohio State and in bowl preparation, respectively, and won't be ready to participate in light workouts until the middle of June.

Next, junior Kim Royston, apparently tired of being shifted from position to position and not being named a starter, decided to transfer from the program in the second week of practice.

Lastly, cornerbacks Niles Brinkley (No.1 at right cornerback) and Mario Goins (No.1 at left cornerback) both went down with injuries Tuesday and did not return (the seriousness was not immediately known).

Still, with the lack of experience filling the cornerback positions, there are plenty of Badgers taking advantage of the opportunity.

Before he went down, Goins (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) was building off his successful redshirt reason. Rated among the top 50 corners in the nation by Scout out of Copperas Cove (TX) H.S., Goins had put on 15 pounds entering the spring and had shown that he could cover any wide receiver, regardless of strength, size or speed.

Behind Goins, junior Josh Nettles (5-foot-10, 184 pounds) played on punt, punt return, kickoff and/or kickoff return teams in all 13 games last season and has started to develop into the role. Seeing plenty of reps with the first and second team defense, Nettles has made a number of interceptions throughout camp and looks poised to compete for playing time in the fall.

On the other end, sophomore Niles Brinkley (5-foot-10, 176 pounds) comes in with the same body weight as a year ago but has vastly improved his agility and footwork. Brinkley played in only five games last year, mostly on special teams, which is where he crafted that speed running full spring downfield.

Backing up Brinkley is redshirt freshman Otis Merrill (5-foot-11, 174 pounds). One of three Glenville kids on the roster, a shoulder injury forced Merrill to miss last season. So far through spring camp, Merrill has been very active around the football, having a number of pass breakups against quarterbacks Curt Phillips and Dustin Sherer.

Others to Consider:

Freshman Adam Hampton (5-foot-11, 181 pounds): Redshirting after walking on to the team last season, Hampton has dropped 17 pounds from last season and has seen a lot of work on the third-team defense and some work with the second team. Named UW's scout team defensive player of the week for Indiana and Michigan State game, Hampton could see time on the special teams, a position that has helped in the development of many defensive players, including Adam's older brother, Zach, who played for the Badgers from 2003-06.

Junior William Hartmann (5-foot-11, 201 pounds): Played in five games on special teams last season and was an Academic All-Big Ten recipient, Hartmann had to leave his first career game with an injury but returned later in the year to make his first career tackle was solo stop in win at Minnesota. Like Hampton, Hartmann has been working with the third-team defense and could see time on special teams.

Junior Prince Moody (5-foot-11, 194 pounds): Played in three games on special teams, Moody finds himself working as the co-No.2 left cornerback with Nettles. Moody has been working primarily the second-team and, despite not playing much for the last two seasons, has performed well covering the wide receivers.

Free Safety:

Leading the team with seven interceptions and second on the team with nine pass deflections, junior Shane Carter (6-foot-2, 202 pounds) was one of the bright spots last season on a struggling defense, as his 39 solo and 56 total tackles show that a lot of action came his way. A consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, Carter's seven picks led the Big Ten, tied for sixth-most in nation and were most for a Badger in a season since Jim Leonhard had seven in 2003.

Carter has been working primarily with the first-team defense and thus far, has had a solid, healthy camp, as he looks like the position is his to lose.

Backing up Carter to start the camp was Royston, but his transfer has caused junior transfer Chris Maragos (6-foot-0, 196 pounds) to switch from third-string strong safety to second-string free safety.

In his 2006 season at Western Michigan, Maragos started eight of 13 games played but saw action at the tight end position. You wouldn't know it by his spring practices, as Maragos has adapted to the position with the second-team defense and continues to push Carter.

Strong Safety:

Probably the one position that is the most heated in the defensive secondary this spring is between junior Aubrey Pleasant and sophomore Jay Valai, as they were both listed as co-No.1 safeties.

Pleasant (6-foot-1, 197 pounds) started all 13 games at strong safety with his best game being a career-high nine tackles, including a six-yard QB sack, in win over 23rd-ranked Michigan State. What hurt Pleasant last year was his inconsistent play at the position and was rotated out in key situations last season.

Valai (5-foot-9, 200 pounds) finished with four tackles in 11 games last season (missing the Illinois and Michigan State game due to injury). So far through spring, Valai has picked off Evridge twice (including a couple pass deflections), Tolzien once and has laid a few good hits on people during the scrimmage. Over the last three practices, Valai has started with the first-team defense with Pleasant following soon after.

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