Spring Grades - Backers and Secondary

With the spring game now in their review mirror, the Wisconsin Badgers turn their focus to their 2009 season opener against Northern Illinois, which is just over 135 short days away. After letting the dust settle, Badger Nation publisher Benjamin Worgull breaks down the positions post spring.

MADISON - Without question, Wisconsin has its starting three linebackers.

Senior Jae McFadden moved from the middle linebacker position to the will linebacker. McFadden played well during the spring at his new position, using his game experience and knowledge of the middle linebacker position to read and react to a play that happens anywhere on the field. Combined with his agility, McFadden always seemed to have his nose in the play.

The same goes for junior Culmer St. Jean, who is playing the best he has since coming to Wisconsin. St. Jean is a near carbon copy of McFadden in the sense that he is knowledgeable within the defense, has tremendous ability and always seems to be in the middle of the action.

Junior Blake Sorensen is an interesting case because throughout spring, one never really noticed him, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sorensen didn't do anything wrong at the strongside backer, but he didn't make a ton of plays to stand out.

After that, the jury is still out. Sophomore Kevin Rouse played well in the spring game (game-high nine tackles), but still has steps to make. Freshman Michael Taylor has most of defensive coaches excited, but can't stay healthy. After missing most of last season because of surgery, Taylor missed most of spring because of a lingering hamstring issue.

"I feel good about our three … (but) after that, it's going to half to be a combination of some incoming freshmen or some guys stepping up, showing signs," Bielema said. "Those guys (do) carry a chip on their shoulder. They are no pretty boys or pre-Madonnas in that group."

One of those guys is sophomore Tony Megna, who delivered the defensive play of the afternoon with his 24-yard interception off Dustin Sherer and subsequent touchdown. Megna, a walk-on from Oak Creek that has battled back from a serious knee injury, continues to make strides since he was moved to the linebacker position and should see some time with the front seven.

"He's a scrappy kid," Bielema said. "He's got a great energy, great attitude, one of the more enjoyable kids to be around just because how he handles himself."

Projected Depth Chart

Will Linebacker

1) Jae McFadden, Senior

2) Tony Megna, Sophomore

3) Conor O'Neill, Freshman

Middle Linebacker

1) Culmer St. Jean, Junior

2) Leonard Hubbard, Freshman

3) A.J. Fenton, Freshman

Outside Linebacker

1) Blake Sorensen, Junior

2) Kevin Rouse, Sophomore

3) Michael Taylor, Freshman

Defensive Backs

Senior Chris Maragos has come a long way. Working out as a high school sophomore, Maragos' dream was to get a scholarship offer from the Badgers. A handful of years, a change of schools and a change of positions later, Maragos has turned himself from an above average tight end to the starting free safety on UW's roster, a role that earned him a scholarship offer a day before the spring game.

Maragos still has nuisances to learn about the safety position, but is tenfold better than a year ago, as he knows his keys, his responsibilities and what he needs to do to become a playmaker. During the spring game, Maragos came from 10 yards away towards to make a diving breakup toward the sidelines on a Tolzien pass intended for Richard Kirtley, a play only a handful of safeties could make.

Senior Shane Carter, who struggled mightily last season and was suspended for the bowl game, continues to try and make amends for last year, making four tackles in the spring game, one practice after making a couple nice interceptions in practice 14.

Junior Jay Valai did not participate in the spring game as he recovers from off season back surgery. Valai did participate in some drill during the spring and still has the ability to make a big hit, but the big concern with the UW coaches to make sure Valai doesn't get too aggressive and make sure he keeps his feet underneath him when going for the big play.

Sophomore Aaron Henry had to learn parts of the cornerback position all over again after missing last season, but the Florida native, along with Niles Brinkley, look to bring some talent, experience and youth to the position.

"It's all about going out there and taking advantage of every practice," Henry said. "I am trying to create my own path. Just because somebody tears there ACL, it doesn't mean it's over. With some dedication and hard work and preparing every day and every play, (I) just come out and be a student of the game."

With Mario Goins suspended and Kevin Claxton out with an injury, the door was opened for sophomore Antonio Fenelus and freshman Marcus Cromartie.

Playing primarily on special teams last season, Fenelus' game experience drove him during the off season to play a more prominent role in the secondary come the fall. Working on his back pedaling, agility and strength, Fenelus is starting to look like a solid cornerback and his six tackles in the spring game is proof of that.

Cromartie was relatively quiet during camp while learning the position and the process, but stood out by provided solid coverage and consistent technique and footwork. During the spring game, Cromartie broke up a sure touchdown catch by getting his right hand on a pass to T.J. Theus in the left corner of the end zone and came across the field to track down freshman running back Erik Smith on his 43-yard run.

There are no seniors among the cornerbacks, a good sign of things to come for the Badgers.

Projected Depth Chart

Left Cornerback

1) Niles Brinkley, Junior

2) Antonio Fenelus, Sophomore

3) Andrew Lukasko, Sophomore

Right Cornerback

1) Aaron Henry, Sophomore

2) Devin Smith, Sophomore

3) Marcus Cromartie, Freshman

Free Safety

1) Chris Maragos, Senior

2) Shane Carter, Senior

3) Adam Hampton, Sophomore

Strong Safety

1) Jay Valai, Junior

2) Aubrey Pleasant, Senior

3) Coddye Ring-Noonan, Freshman

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