It's becoming the curse of the safety position with the Wisconsin football program. First, wide receiver-turned-safety Reggie Mitchell bolted for Pitt, and now, junior college recruit Donnell Vercher has been denied admission to Wisconsin, according to BadgerNation.com, and will instead sign with his hometown team, Fresno State.
It's not the end of the world for Vercher, who played his JUCO ball at Fresno City College, but the real news here is that the Badgers are extremely thin at the safety position. Even under the assumption that Mitchell and Vercher were both going to be on the roster this fall, Wisconsin was scrambling to get more bodies at safety. Running backs Kyle Zuleger and Jeffrey Lewis were both shifted to the position.
Mitchell and Vercher were expected to compete for the starting safety job alongside senior Dezmen Southward. It was Mitchell who worked as the starter during spring camp before Vercher's anticipated arrival this summer, but now both are gone, leaving the Badgers in a bind.
There is plenty of concern at the cornerback position as well.
After losing both Marcus Cromartie and Devin Smith to graduation, Wisconsin lacks experience at corner and plans on starting junior Peniel Jean and sophomore Darius Hillary next season. Neither player has had starting experience prior to 2013 other than playing as a nickel corner.
Behind them, the best option is likely a true freshman in Sojourn Shelton, who made an impression in the spring game. Beyond Shelton, it’s anyone’s guess, as both Devin Gaulden and Hugs Etienne are recovering from surgery.
But at least the Badgers have a pretty good idea of who will be contributing at cornerback. We're already midway through June, and head coach Gary Andersen and safeties coach Bill Busch have yet to anoint a starter at safety, let alone select the top candidates for the job.
Luckily, Wisconsin went out and found another JUCO defensive back to wrap up his 2013 recruiting class—Tekeim Reynard.
Reynard was recruited as a cornerback, but he transitioned to safety while playing at Independence (Kan.) Community College. Originally, it was believed that Reynard would step in and compete for a starting cornerback job, but now we could see him get reps at safety.
He would be challenging junior Michael Trotter and sophomore Michael Caputo, two players who gained starting experience last season with Shelton Johnson sidelined.
Trotter racked up 24 tackles and one pass breakup while Caputo had 10 tackles, but there's a reason these two weren't originally in the plans at starting safety entering the Andersen regime. Both had their problems last season in terms of tackling and field vision, and who's to say those issues have magically resolved themselves?
It should prove to be a wide-open race with Zuleger and Lewis in the mix as well, but the Badgers lose a lot with the admissions denial of Vercher. He played a great center field at the JUCO level, leading the nation in interceptions. Considering how the new Wisconsin 3-4 defense is predicated on an aggressive approach, Vercher would have been a welcome addition, especially after Mitchell's departure.
Fortunately, the Badgers still have two-plus months to recover from this disappointing news, but the effect of Vercher's loss has already been felt before he even arrived.