Next man up is phrase often thrown around in the world of sports — but few times does it hold as much meaning as it does for the Wisconsin Badgers cornerback position. With three-year starter Darius Hillary hoping to chase his NFL dreams, the Badgers are looking for a new starting cornerback for the first time since the 2013 season.
That isn’t the only reason it’s “next man up” for the Badgers corners though, and that’s because this group has a whole lot of inexperience and question marks outside of three-year starter Sojourn Shelton.
Even with Shelton there are still question marks, so with that lets take a look at the cornerback position.
Returning Starter(s): Sojourn Shelton (29 tackles, 1 INT, 7 pass break ups, 1 forced fumble)
Departing Players: Darius Hillary (44 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 6 pass break ups)
Coming in to Program: Patrick Johnson II; Dontye Carriere-Williams; Ke’Shan Pennamon; Caesar Williams
Biggest Storyline: What Will the Position Even Look Like?
Everyone knows that one side of the field will be covered by Sojourn Shelton, but beyond that everything else is a crap shoot at this point. Heck, some wonder what Shelton will do as the experienced player and without the help of the solid play of Darius Hillary on the other side of him as well.
That said, this team has some intriguing options to look at as the potential starter next to Shelton. First up to get a look will likely be last seasons nickel back, Derrick Tindal. He started off slow, but by the end of the season few saw a difference between him and the starters on the field. He ended last season 10th on the team with 32 tackles, while also racking up 0.5 tackles for loss. What Tindal needs to show is even more progress as a pure cornerback.
He’ll get that opportunity this spring, but there also is exactly zero depth at the cornerback beyond those two players. The name to really watch is redshirt freshman Titus Booker, who was UW’s Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year. Jim Leonhard (defensive backs coach) and Justin Wilcox (defensive coordinator) will breathe a sigh of relief if Booker can emerge as an option to start.
UW isn’t likely to know what they have overall at this position until the freshmen arrive on campus this summer and during fall camp, but there are other names to watch this spring that could upend the applecart.
Serge Trezy has moved to cornerback after flipping between both sides of the ball already, and his speed could be really intriguing to work with this spring. Natrell Jamerson switched over from wide receiver to cornerback last fall and emerged as the fourth cornerback, but can he continue to develop and be a real option the staff can trust before the recruits arrive on campus?
Who Starts Against LSU: Sojourn Shelton, Derrick Tindal
For all the potential that the three incoming freshmen possess and for all the hype of Booker following his scout team play, the choice to start against the Bayou Bengals seems obvious. Shelton will not only need to lead by example on the field, but he’ll need to be a leader elsewhere across the secondary thanks to all the departures. Tindal will need to take the next step in his career, but there’s little to suggest he won’t after the challenges he faced and overcame last season. The real issue may be what the Badgers do behind them and just how ready said players are to play at the highest level.
Projected Depth Chart:
CB: Sojourn Shelton; Titus Booker
CB: Derrick Tindal; Natrell Jamerson
Right now it is hard to see how the youngsters crack the two-deep unless they show up in a major way during fall camp. That’s not to say we won’t be seeing the likes of Johnson II or Pennamon involved in the defense as the season goes on, but it just seems like too big of ask to make the jump in to the mix for the top four. Look for this season to be a total work in progress at the cornerback position.