August 9, 2010

Fall camp preview: Safeties

Chris Maragos exhausted his eligibility following a superb senior season and now finds himself a member of the San Francisco 49ers. That's a great career move for him, not so much for the Wisconsin secondary he leaves behind.

Maragos was a leader, both vocal and through his play, that helped lead the Badger to 10 wins in a season many expected them to struggle. He was as steady as they come at the safety position, played as hard as he could throughout and made plays in critical situations to help the Badgers win games.

While he is no longer with the team, though, his play has to have left a blueprint for the Badger safeties on the roster.

With fall camp, and the start of the 2010 season, just hours away, BadgeBlitz.com wraps up its defensive position-by-position breakdown. In this installment, the safeties come to the forefront of the discussion.

BIGGEST QUESTION ENTERING CAMP: Will Maragos be adequately replaced?

At the free safety position, Aaron Henry will likely get the nod when the Badgers open the regular season under the desert lights at UNLV. At this juncture, it's hard to determine how Henry will perform at his new position because he simply hasn't had an opportunity to play it in a regulation game.

If there is anything we do know about Henry, though, is that he's got a passion for the game and wants to get back to the form he displayed prior to suffering a devastating knee injury. With a new position and a new position coach in Chris Ash, it seems Henry will be able to start anew and with a fresh slate. And if spring camp was any indication, it seems Henry started to find comfort in the back end of the Badger secondary.

Whether that translates to the type of success he hopes to find remains to be seen, but that's why you've got to love fall camp. It's seeing players having an opportunity to rise to the occasion that is truly entertaining, as well as refreshing to watch.

WHAT WE KNOW: Depth is shoddy at best

We know Henry and Jay Valai will be the starters once the season begins. What we don't know as clearly is who will be backing those two veterans up.

Could Shelton Johnson finally make an impact?

Sure, but at the conclusion of spring camp he still seemed to be a bit off from that status.

Could Conor O'Neill, a former linebacker turned safety, make the seamless transition and earn a role as a player in the secondary?

Potentially. Of all the backup safety prospects in fall camp, it seemed as though O'Neill was in on more plays than anyone else. He's fast, he's smart and he has a knack for the ball. The position swap featuring Kevin Claxton and O'Neill looks to be one that could potentially offer playing time for each player sooner rather than later. O'Neill, in general, will be a player to keep an eye on throughout August.

Where do role players like Adam Hampton and Josh Peprah fit in?

Granted both players are still young, there seems to be an opportunity this fall camp to move up the ranks of the depth chart. Peprah, who has made plays at time throughout practice, could make a name for himself this fall with consistent play. While that doesn't necessarily translate into playing time this year, it could pave a way for him to slip into the rotation when Valai departs following his senior year.

FRESH FALL CAMP FACES: Frank Tamakloe and Michael Trotter

Trotter was a fairly hyped prospect in UW's most recent recruiting class and Tamakloe wasn't too far behind. Heck, if either one of the players picks up on the playbook in a fast manner, and proves to be consistent throughout August, either one could make a viable push up the depth chart simply because there isn't any established depth behind the starters.

Early Fall Camp Prediction:

Call me what you want, but I feel Valai is in line for a big senior season. I feel he has seen plenty of action throughout his career in Madison and it's all been shaping him for his final go round in a Badger uniform. I also feel that under the tutelage of a more technical position coach, Valai will remained disciplined in coverage and remain the attacking presence in the rush game. He has a bevy of physical tools and this will be the year he puts it all together to solidify the back end of a secondary that many question entering this season.

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