Becoming the Big Hitter

Aaron Henry (Matt Fleming/10)

Aaron Henry's swagger has officially returned to the Wisconsin defense. After surviving an ACL tear and a position switch, Henry is starting to thrive at the safety position, and opposing offenses can hear him coming.

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Aaron Henry officially became a safety in the second quarter against Austin Peay last Saturday. He shed the label of corner-transitioning-to- safety. He can officially be referred to as former cornerback Aaron Henry.

He is no longer a secondary player in limbo. He is simply a safety.

What made the transition final? What put the official stamp on his position change?

Following in the footsteps of his fellow starter Jay Valai, it was a bone jarring hit on Austin Peay receiver Ashlon Adams — sending both Adams and the ball crashing to the ground — that will have pass catchers thinking twice when going over the middle and made Henry feel like the transformation was finally complete.

"It really put the padding on my safety position," Henry said.

"I felt pretty good, I actually felt really good. My whole life, I was not always known as the great tackler or the guy who is going to knock somebody out. But I am glad to see I can hopefully change people's opinion of me."

With No.11 Wisconsin entering Big Ten play today at No.24 Michigan State, competition that will be a tad more equal then the likes of Austin Peay, it marks a good time for Henry to be developing a reputation that shades towards physical over finesse.

With a series of big hits in the first four games, Valai is more then happy to crown Henry as the team's enforcer over the middle.

"I think he has, I'll give it up," Valai said with a smile. "I am getting too old.

"No but seriously, Aaron is playing real good and when I get my shots I am going to take my shots too. It is all good."

It is all good indeed. With the Badgers still looking for a pass rusher to replace the production of Chris Borland, the UW secondary will need to hold its own in the coming games and create plays on its own.

If Henry and Valai — renowned in the conference for his willingness to blow somebody up — can make receivers aware of their presence over the middle, it will go a long way to a more effective pass defense.

"You want receivers to hear footsteps," Valai said. "Once they start fearing that and thinking that, it helps a lot in the passing game."

"I think people kind of have their head on a swivel for Valai, and people don't know really too much about me back there," Henry said. "So If I can get some, I am definitely going to take advantage of my opportunities."

Although he has appeared comfortable in the four games this season, the move from corner to safety wasn't nearly as seamless as it appeared.

After a superb freshman season, Henry suffered the next two years with a season ending injury and inconsistent play last year. View as a finesse cornerback, the transition to safety was far from being viewed as a guaranteed success.

"The first four weeks have been good," UW defensive backs coach Chris Ash said. "He has improved each week we have gone out there. He is getting more confident, he is playing faster. His understanding of the position has gotten better."

Or as Valai puts it: "He worked his you-know-what off in the spring and summer to get to where he is at right now."

With 12 tackles in four games and a team-high five pass break-ups, Henry has shown marked improvement in what used to be his biggest weakness. According to Valai, it is because Henry understands positioning better from the safety position. According to Henry, it is because he is thinking less and reacting more. If you ask Ash, it is a combination of several factors. "It kind of bores down to a math equation," Henry said of tackling at the safety position. "You have gotta take the proper angle and if you don't it can definitely be a consequence."

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