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Wisconsin Football: 3 Questions for the Defense in Spring Practice



Wisconsin Football defensive coordinator Mike Tressel

Wisconsin football is undergoing a slew of changes under head coach Luke Fickell. Fortunately, this weekend marks the first of a series of 15 spring practices for UW. Fans will be able to see defensive coordinator Mike Tressel implement his 3-3-5 defensive scheme in real time. With new offensive and defensive systems, there are plenty of questions about what to expect from the Badgers.

Who Makes the Two-Deep on the Cornerback Depth Chart?

The cornerback room has undergone significant changes since Wisconsin’s bowl game. Jay Shaw and Cedric Dort Jr. – who served as starting corners last season – each exhausted their eligibility. Reserve cornerback Justin Clark also graduated, while Semar Melvin transferred to Michigan State.

There are four new cornerbacks in Madison this year. Jason Maitre, a transfer from Boston College, is as versatile as they come. During his time at BC, Maitre played in the slot, on the outside, and even started seven games at safety. Jonas Duclona and Jace Arnold, a pair of three-star recruits, enrolled early to join the Badgers during spring practice. Four-star prospect Amare Snowden will enroll this fall.

RELATED: 3 Questions for the Wisconsin Football Offense in Spring Practice

Headlining the returning cornerbacks is Alexander Smith. Smith played in the starting role to end the season after missing the first half due to injury. Ricardo Hallman started in Smith’s absence, but saw his role wane with Smith’s return. Redshirt junior Max Lofy saw the field in 12 games getting most of his work in the slot. Another redshirt junior, Amaun Williams, played in 12 games last season in a reserve role.

Wisconsin football cornerbacks Ricardo Hallman and Max Lofy

Sep 10, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers cornerback Ricardo Hallman (2) celebrates with cornerback Max Lofy (12) following an interception during the first quarter against the Washington State Cougars at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Snowden may be the x-factor this fall as the depth chart shapes out. Although he will not be available for spring practice, Snowden’s athletic ability could allow him to see the field in a reserve role. In Tressel’s system that uses five defensive backs, Snowden could be used as a third cornerback as a ball-hawking threat over the center of the field. An apt role considering his talent in the outfield as a baseball player.

Who Will Start at Safety for Wisconsin Football?

Tressel is more well known for running a 3-3-5 stack system. In lieu of a third cornerback, his system often employs a third safety. Because of this, Wisconsin will need to find new contributors after a pair of key departures.

John Torchio and Titus Toler are the departures at safety from the Badgers. Torchio, who declared for the NFL Draft, led UW in 2022 with five interceptions; his 55 tackles were the fourth most on the team. Toler appeared in five games last year in a reserve role and transferred to Boise State.

UW returns two other major contributors at safety. Kamo’i Latu returns after starting alongside Torchio in 2022. The senior tied Torchio’s 55 tackles last season and also recorded two sacks and two interceptions. Latu snagged both of his interceptions in Wisconsin’s win over Northwestern. Junior Hunter Wohler, a former four star recruit, played in six games, but missed time due to injury.

Wisconsin football safety Kamo'i Latu

Nov 5, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers safety Kamo’i Latu (13) celebrates a play during the fourth quarter against the Maryland Terrapins at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most notable returns from injury to the Wisconsin football roster is safety Travian Blaylock. The graduate student missed the entire 2022 season after tearing his ACL. The former three star recruit appeared in every game for the Badgers during the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

UW is also adding freshman Braedyn Moore at safety. The Hamilton, Ohio native was a high three star recruit that Fickell flipped from Cincinnati to Wisconsin. Moore will compete for playing time with sophomores and fellow former-three stars Austin Brown and Preston Zachman for playing time behind the likely starting three of Latu, Wohler, and Blaylock. Brown mostly saw the field on special teams last season. Zachman played in six games in 2022 before suffering a season ending injury.

What Personell Groupings Will Wisconsin Defensive Coordinator Mike Tressell Use?

Tressel has spoke numerous times about his goal to “mesh the elite” of the Cincinnati and Wisconsin defenses. Wisconsin has run a 3-4 defense in recent years, as opposed to Tressel’s 3-3-5. Regardless of that ideological difference, the newly minted UW defensive coordinator has expressed his desire to find out how to get the best out of his roster regardless of alignment.

Ideological flexibility on defense is nothing new for Wisconsin football. Although former defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard ran a 3-4 defense, that base setting changed situationally. Oftentimes, the Badgers would line-up in a nickel package bringing in an extra safety in a 2-4-5 alignment.

Tressel possesses that same flexibility. The 3-3-5 defense can be run with three cornerbacks or three safeties. On top of the 3-3-5, Tressel has used 4-3 and even 4-2-5 lineups at times. Wherever Tresell believes he can find the most talent, is likely where he will stock up his personnel on the field.

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Kedrick Stumbris covers Wisconsin football, basketball, hockey, and volleyball. He received his B.A. with economics and political science majors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2018 and has had his work published on Bleacher Report and Verbal Commits.