The Badgers head into the 2014 season featuring a largely untested group of safeties, with defensive stalwart Dezmen Southward now a member of the Atlanta Falcons and quarterback-turned-safety Tanner McEvoy in heavy competition for the QB gig.
Of all the options at safety, only one Badger returns with meaningful starting experience. That Badger, Michael Caputo, a redshirt junior, should be a good building block for Wisconsin to center their defensive backfield.
Caputo leads all returning Badgers in tackles, having accumulated 63 tackles last season, trailing only Chris Borland’s 72 solo stops in 2013.
Caputo enters 2014 a Preseason Fourth Team All-Big Ten Selection (Phil Steele) after earning All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honors last season.
A smart player capable of playing just about anywhere – he began spring training as an outside linebacker, but returned to safety because of Wisconsin’s lack of depth at safety – Caputo will be entrusted with leading a young group of players in the Wisconsin backfield.
One of those players, Peniel Jean, may be a redshirt senior, but his playing experience lands him among the other underclassmen.
Jean has played in 31 games as a Badger, but has yet to make a start. He has 31 solo tackles to his name, but is anything but a lock to line up next to Caputo.
Jean will likely be in a battle with redshirt sophomore Leo Musso, a Waunakee native who played every game last season, picking up a start along the way. Musso had an interception and seven solo tackles (11 total) last year, and also blocked a punt.
While Jean holds the edge as far as experience, Musso’s strong showing last season gives him a good chance to open the season as the starter. In Wisconsin’s spring scrimmage Musso trotted out with the first-teamers.
The third likely Badger to compete for the open safety spot, redshirt junior Nate Hammon, was forced to end his career this summer after complications from compartment syndrome.
Hammon played the entirety of the 2013 season following a surgery to improve blood flow in his legs, and had two more surgeries following the season. His doctor advised him to discontinue his football career.
With the final safety slot likely a battle between Musso and Jean, several other players will be expected to step up to provide depth for the Badgers.
Freshmen Austin Hudson and Lubern Figaro – who is the cousin of NBA player Nerlens Noel – have each had opportunities to work with the first team defense this summer as Musso has battled through injuries. The young players each have a chance to play as true freshmen.
Sophomore Joe Ferguson and receiver-turned-safety A.J.Jordan will also be in the mix.
Strong safety: Michael Caputo (redshirt junior)
Free safety: Leo Musso (redshirt sophomore)
Nickel back: Peniel Jean (redshirt senior)