Spring wrap-up: Cornerbacks

Jack Ikegwuonu (UW Athletics)

Part 6 of BadgerNation.com's look back at Wisconsin's 2006 spring football practice season

News and notes — Sophomores Jack Ikegwuonu and Allen Langford were the No. 1 cornerbacks throughout the spring, aside from a few early-season moments when one or both of them was missing practice.

Senior Zach Hampton converted from free safety to corner and, despite a nagging heel injury suffered in the second practice of spring ball, played well enough to grab the No. 3 corner spot heading into the summer months.

Junior Ben Strickland is next on the depth.

The rest of the cornerbacks fall into the developmental category. First among them is redshirt freshman Prince Moody, who spent considerable time with the second team due to Hampton's injury.

Jameson Davis and redshirt freshman walk-on Phil Ayeni appear to be the sixth and seventh corners at the conclusion of spring practices.

Spring MVP — Ikegwuonu. His ceiling is quite high. Ikegwuonu has good size, instincts, athleticism, hands —name it, he has it. He played very well this spring, making his share of plays in coverage and proving to be excellent in run support. Ikegwuonu has all the makings of an elite corner. He is still very young in the position and he needs to clean things up a little bit, but he is well on his way. The only negative that jumps out is the hamstring issue that turns up here and there, as it did early on this spring.

Springing ahead — Hampton and Strickland have been terrific special teams players for the Badgers the past two seasons while filling needed roles as insurance policies in the secondary. Hampton played safety in several meaningful situations last season as an extra defensive back.

After strong spring performances, Hampton and Strickland established themselves as the clear second-team cornerbacks heading into the summer months. And while much attention will be placed on the three incoming freshmen who are projected to play cornerback, they will be hard pressed to supplant Hampton or Strickland.

Hampton never really had the opportunity to show what he can do this spring, as the heel injury continued to hamper him. Still, he displayed a knack for the position, and he played at a high level in the spring game, making several key plays, including, of course, his 59-yard interception return for the White squad's only touchdown.

Like Hampton, Strickland is an underrated athlete who plays with a great deal of competitiveness. Neither player has great size, but they make up for that with technique, instincts and enough speed to hang with most receivers.

Pressing questions — Where is the depth after the top four?

The Badgers have to be happier with their two-deep than they were before spring ball began. Langford and Ikegwuonu improved since last season and should be a solid starting tandem. Hampton was a safety when the 2005 season ended, so his contributions at corner are a bonus for a position that desperately needed depth.

However, depth at cornerback is still a major question mark heading into the 2006 season. Moody has shown promise, but is at least a year away from being a true depth player. However, he may end up "in the depth" by default this fall, depending on the development of incoming freshmen Kim Royston, Jamathan Lyle and Jay Valai. Can any of those three players compete immediately?

Looking ahead — Cornerback will be fine — as long as the top four remain very healthy throughout the season. In this way, Ikegwuonu and Langford are two of UW's most valuable players. Once healthy, Hampton may prove to be a legitimate Big Ten starter, and Strickland is a quality reserve. But an injury to Ikegwuonu or Langford would be devastating to the team's overall depth.

The lack of depth here could be somewhat alleviated by the fact that UW may be able to stay in its base defense with regularity this fall, because of how well outside linebackers Jonathan Casillas and DeAndre Levy run.

Expect Hampton to open the season in a nickel back role, perhaps as a second free safety along with starter Roderick Rogers.

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