(As Fall Camp approaches us faster than you’d think, we take a look at what to expect from each position group heading in to camp in our “Fall Camp Preview” series)
Experience — its tough to get, and once you have it on your team you don’t want to let it go. The 2015 Wisconsin Badgers secondary is full of experience, returning all four starters from last season and even a few others with a number of snaps under their belts.
That’s good news for a group that was No. 1 in pass defense (168.0 yards per game) and gave up just 15 passing touchdowns all season long. However, things got even a bit brighter this offseason with the permanent switch of ex-starting quarterback Tanner McEvoy to the position he got his first start at at UW — Safety.
Let’s take a look at what could be one dynamic position group for the Badgers in 2015.
What We Know: This is easily the strongest position group the Badgers will put out on the field against Alabama to start the season. It’s an experienced group with a growing group of youngsters ready to take it to the next level.
The Badgers come in to this season returning all four starters from last year (Lubern Figaro did start seven games in 2014), and adds perhaps the most athletic player on the team to this side of the ball — former quarterback Tanner McEvoy.
McEvoy and Caputo could be the most athletic and feared safety group in the Big Ten, after Caputo topped the team with 106 tackles (9th in the Big Ten) and McEvoy having displayed speed and range in a previous stint at the position in 2013.
On the outside, Darius Hillary grew in to a shut down cornerback that teams shied away from throwing against as the season went along. While Hillary didn’t have an interception to his name, he had five pass break ups and 3.0 tackles for loss on the season.
Sojourn Shelton flew high in his freshman season, but there was little doubt he had a massive sophomore slump during the majority of 2014. He did turn the corner a bit late, ending the season with 33 tackles and six pass break ups. But, after a strong interception performance in his first year, 2014 was a disappointment.
Still, few teams in the Big Ten return as much experience and potential as the Badgers do, and with a pass defense that ranked 1st in the Big Ten only getting better by the addition of McEvoy that’s scary stuff for the rest of the conference.
About the only thing this group needs to get better at is creating turnovers. With McEvoy’s range, athletic ability and size don’t be surprised to see the turnovers coming fast and furious with this group.
What We Need to Find Out: Is there Depth at Safety?
Tanner McEvoy sliding in as a starter at safety is a damn good thing for the Badgers, because it solves an immediate need and it also utilizes one of the most athletic players on the field in a position where athleticism reigns supreme. Still, Wisconsin is going to have some things to figure out in the month or so ahead, because we all know that at some point someone else is likely to be counted on to fill in — whether its injury or just sheer number of snaps.
Wisconsin was supposed to have a number of safeties in the program over the past two years, but rising sophomore Austin Hudson wasn’t so rising with the new coaching staff and the plans they had for him. It also means a pair of sophomores in Joe Ferguson and Lubern Figaro are likely to step up in the two-deep this season.
Figaro had an up and down freshman campaign, starting the season as a starter and ending it with fewer and fewer snaps. On the other hand, Ferguson, the grandson of Barry Alvarez, has worked quietly behind the scenes and after a monster spring is poised for bigger things in 2015.
Still, that was just one camp and we’ve seen players flash and fade away quickly in the past. With both starting safeties gone after this season, it would be nice to see anyone step up and solidify the safety position. Knowing this group would be good should either/both of McEvoy and Caputo go down would be a huge weight off the shoulders of the coaching staff.
Player to Watch: D’Cota Dixon, CB
It’s going to be nice to have four extremely gifted and experienced players in the Wisconsin Badgers secondary for the 2015 season. However, there has to be an eye to the future in fall camp as three of those four starters are for sure gone and junior Sojourn Shelton won’t be around much longer either.
UW has had the luxury of not many injuries or suspensions or bad luck with the group it currently has starting. That means opportunities for snaps from others has been limited. One player that could eventually step in to a starting role could be 5-10, 203-pound sophomore D’Cota Dixon. He showed a lot of promise out of the gate last season, appearing in three games before a shoulder injury cut his season short.
He’s got the size that coaches love, but can he be a playmaker and is he going to stay healthy? Watching his progress is going to be key to getting depth at the position going forward. If the progress from spring to fall camp is good, Dixon may be in line for some decent snaps this season. Don’t be surprised to hear his name coming out of this camp.
CB: Sojourn Shelton, Jr.
SS: Michael Caputo, Sr.
FS: Tanner McEvoy, Sr.
CB: Darius Hilary, Sr.