August 8, 2010

Fall camp preview: Cornerbacks

In most everything, experience and repetition are what elevates something to an elite level. While nobody is saying the Badger cornerbacks are on the verge of becoming elite, they are experienced and have had an opportunity to receive may reps throughout each of their respective careers.

In it's continuing series, BadgerBlitz.com focuses on the Wisconsin cornerbacks.

WHAT WE KNOW: Experience shouldn't be an issue

Niles Brinkley, Devin Smith, Antonio Fenelus and Marcus Cromartie are no longer the new kids on the block. They are all entering the second half of their Badger careers and have had more than enough reps in practice to feel comfortable with the schemes coordinator Dave Doeren has implemented.

The time is essentially now or never for the rotation of corners-whoever they may be- to step up and deliver stability in UW's pass coverage.

Really, you get the feeling it could be a big year for the Badger cornerbacks. Brinkley has been a starter off and on for the past two seasons and should be a factor for the starting gig as a senior.

Smith was consistently tabbed the most consistent corner by the UW coaching staff throughout the season a year ago. He never wowed anybody with his play, but he never truly struggled for more than a play here or there. He was consistent with the way he approached each and every game and each and every down. He just wasn't an overpowering, lock down type of corner.

Fenelus, who played more than he ever had a season ago, seemed to be a guy on the brink of pushing for a starting spot. But for every big play he had-every pass breakup or near interception-he had one or two bad ones that trumped any progress he may have made.

Entering 2010, one where most questions surrounding this Badger team start with the secondary, it's time for the three veteran cornerbacks (not including Cromartie) to truly take the next step and develop into a highly functional unit that has the ability to consistently make plays.

They have the experience to do so.

BIGGEST QUESTION ENTERING FALL CAMP: Is Cromartie ready to make the next step?

Cromartie is one of the more athletic players in the Badger cornerback group. He is long, fast and athletic enough to break up pass plays on a consistent basis. He's a natural ball hawk and has a sixth sense of knowing-and being-where the ball is. But, he's not consistent enough to break into the regular rotation.

That will likely need to change this season. If he can develop a mental strength and ability to stay focused and disciplined in the schemes, Cromartie could be the tangible boost, the athletic presence, the secondary needs to reach new heights. Whether that is attainable will be seen during fall camp.

FRESH FALL CAMP FACES: Peniel Jean, Jameson Wright

Both Jean and Wright have decent size as true freshman cornerback prospects. Jean stands 5-foot-11 but weighs a solid 187 pounds. Wright is a bit taller at 6-foot-1, but a little lankier at 178 pounds.

Give then some time in the UW strength and conditioning program with Ben Herbert and their frames will fill out. While anything is possible-including a stint with the special team unit-it will be interesting to see if these two corner prospects will be able to push for a spot in the rotation. As is the case with all true freshmen, things tend to fly at them at a high speed.

They could potentially play a role on special teams, but breaking into the rotation may be a bit too ambitious. But I've been wrong before.

EARLY CAMP PREDICTION:

If I had to pick right now, I would imagine Brinkley and Smith land the starting nod at cornerback. They are the two most consistent players at the position and have a bevy of experience with it. Fenelus isn't too far behind and will see plenty of playing time throughout the year.

The real question mark for the Badger corners is Cromartie. Entering his third season in the program, I really feel Cromartie is on the verge of proving his worth. If he does, the Badgers will have a decent quartet of cornerbacks and that will take some of the onus off the safeties, where questions remain.


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