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Wisconsin football: seven defensive players who elevated their standing this spring

A look at seven players on the Wisconsin defense who took advantage of the spring and raised their stock heading into the summer.
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The Wisconsin Badgers officially concluded spring camp on Friday night and now head into the summer months preparing for the fall.

Each spring there are several players that seamlessly step up into new roles or come out of nowhere to show the coaching staff that they are ready to make an impact.

This year is no different. Following Wisconsin's 15 spring practices, several players took advantage of added opportunities and improved their standing on the roster.

After looking at five players from the offense yesterday, here is a look at seven players from the defense that put together a strong spring camp and set themselves up to have an increased role come the 2022 season. 

Alexander Smith

After playing sporadically a year ago, Alexander Smith took a big step this off-season and emerged as the leader in the cornerback room this spring. The senior out of California showed an ability to make plays and was a consistent presence in the secondary. 

In addition to playing cornerback, Smith also saw time as a safety this spring with the scholarship safety depth down to only two players due to injuries. 

Heading into the summer, Smith is one of the top cornerbacks on the roster and is a projected starter. With his versatility to also step in at safety if need be, Smith will be one of the most valuable players on the entire defense.  

Jordan Turner

After beginning the spring working primarily with the second group at inside linebacker under new coach Bill Sheridan, Jordan Turner jumped into the starting lineup alongside Tate Grass in the latter stages of spring camp. 

The sophomore out of Michigan flashed his athleticism and abilities in coverage last season with two interceptions, and he appears ready to be a major contributor next year. 

Turner is a fast and instinctual linebacker that should quickly make an impact in run support and as a blitzer, two things he did well this spring. 

Hunter Wohler

Sophomore safety Hunter Wohler came into the spring as the No. 3 safety behind seniors John Torchio and Travian Blaylock. 

An unfortunate injury to Blaylock this spring vaulted Wohler into the top group. 

Taking the majority of the first-team reps for the second half of spring, Wohler played well. The Muskego (Wis.) native had multiple big hits and continued to grow in confidence as the spring wore on. 

The former four-star safety is supremely athletic and has big-time potential. With the injury status of Blaylock still up in the air for this fall, Wohler could use the past 15 practices as a springboard for next season. 

Justin Clark

Entering his seventh season of college football, Justin Clark bet on himself this off-season by transferring from Toledo to Wisconsin.

Following a strong spring, it appears as though the move is paying off. 

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Clark joined the Badgers as one of three incoming cornerback transfers, and he quickly made himself comfortable with the top group. A confident and cerebral cornerback, Clark hauled in multiple interceptions this spring and also showed a willingness to battle on the outside. 

While transfer cornerback Jay Shaw of UCLA also stood out at times and is expected to carve out a major role, I think Clark is the primary transfer corner to know based on his play this spring.

Clark is versatile enough to play outside and in the slot, something that should get him on the field come fall. 

Ricardo Hallman

The third cornerback to make this list, Ricardo Hallman, also stepped up this spring. 

The former three-star corner out of Florida redshirted last season, but he made a number of nice plays in practice. Hallman is very quick and has excellent ball skills.

Hallman worked as one of the top-three corners during the final few practices of the spring, and he rotated in with the top group throughout. 

It's clear that cornerbacks coach Hank Poteat and defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard see a ton of potential in Hallman, and I think it is safe to say that he will not only see the field in his second year with the Badgers but he could the future at the position. 

Ben Barten

An under-the-radar player that set himself up nicely for the future is nose tackle Ben Barten. After joining the Badgers as a jumbo-athlete with the potential to play on the offensive or defensive line, Barten settled in at nose tackle this spring. 

With Wisconsin needing to find a viable backup to Keeanu Benton, Barten saw most of the team reps at the position. He did a great job of clogging up running lanes and making life difficult for the interior of Wisconsin's offensive line. 

True freshman Curt Neal was still recovering from a knee injury this spring, and he could compete with Barten in the fall for the No. 2 nose tackle role, but I think Barten did enough to show that he could give the Badgers some meaningful snaps this fall at the position if needed.

Darryl Peterson/TJ Bollers

The future at outside linebacker is extremely bright for Wisconsin.

While the group collectively had a highly productive spring, Darryl Peterson and TJ Bollers played phenomenally well. In the end, instead of highlighting just one of the two freshmen standouts, I decided to lump them together for the final spot. 

Entering the summer, it is safe to say that Peterson and Bollers will earn playing time next season, and the ceiling is incredibly high for each player. 

During the spring practices I attended, both edge rushers were consistently making plays and causing havoc. On Friday night alone each player had multiple sacks. 

Nick Herbig and CJ Goetz will be the starters in the fall for the Badgers but expect Peterson, Bollers, and sophomore Kaden Johnson to be involved in the rotation.  

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