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Wisconsin spring football: safety position overview

A look at where the Wisconsin Badgers are at the safety position following spring ball.

The Wisconsin Badgers officially concluded spring camp, and now head into the summer months preparing for the fall.

While spring football is generally a time for self-improvement and overall development, the 15 extra practices also provide players the opportunity to step up and show the coaching staff that they warrant playing time come fall.

While the Badgers were confined to the McClain Center with ongoing renovations to Camp Randall, the defense under Jim Leonhard was flying around and making plays.

Over the next two weeks, All Badgers will take a position-by-position look at some of the general takeaways from the spring and what it could mean for each position group come fall.

Previously covered positions:

Today we turn to the Wisconsin secondary, beginning with the safeties. 

Senior safety John Torchio during spring practice for the Wisconsin Badgers. (Credit: Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Redshirt senior John Torchio is one of the top returning safeties on the roster for the Badgers.

The Wisconsin Badgers came into the spring with seniors John Torchio and Travian Blaylock taking the bulk of the first-team reps. The duo looked great together, with Torchio more of a ball-hawking playmaker, while Blaylock was a speedster that could cover a lot of ground in the back-end of the defense.

However, an unfortunate injury to Blaylock sidelined him for the latter half of the spring and hurt the depth built at the safety position with sophomore Preston Zachman already out with an injury.

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Without Blaylock, John Torchio remained in the starting lineup, and the senior free safety drew the praise of both Paul Chryst and Jim Leonhard for his approach during the winter and increased his role as a leader on the defense.

Torchio earned the chance to be in the starting lineup after rotating in with the starters for the past few seasons as a reserve and consistently flashing an ability to generate turnovers in practice and games as a former walk-on out of California.

But the more substantial shift to come from Blaylock's absence was that it forced sophomore Hunter Wohler into the starting lineup alongside Torchio.

A former four-star recruit out of Muskego (Wis.), Wohler saw the field in all 13 games as a true freshman as a safety in the two-deep and special teams.

A fast and instinctual player with a knack for delivering big hits, Wohler is more than capable of starting the opener against Illinois State if Blaylock remains out, but the depth behind the tandem of Torchio and Wohler is fairly suspect.

As previously mentioned, Preston Zachman did not participate in the spring, which left a pair of walk-ons to take most of the second-team reps. While Owen Arnett did come up with multiple interceptions, he and fellow walk-on Bryce Carey struggled at times in coverage, which led to big plays for the offense.

Fortunately for Jim Leonhard, the cornerback room is experienced and has versatile athletes that are options in a pinch.

Senior cornerback Alexander Smith is a likely starter this season at corner, but he also saw some reps as a safety this spring. Leonhard mentioned that he could see time at safety if needed because of his experience and knowledge of the defense.

True freshman Aveyonne Jones of Texas also played cornerback and safety this spring. The 5-foot-11 early enrollee played well in both roles and is a potential answer for the two-deep come the fall if injuries at the position persist.

Overall, the depth at safety is probably the most concerning part of the defense entering the summer months. The staff has Austin Brown coming in as a true freshman, and they are incredibly high on his potential, but it is hard to know if he will be ready like Wohler was a year ago.

Additionally, Wisconsin has shown to be active in the transfer portal for safeties, offering Utah transfer Kamo'i Latu, who is a former high school teammate of Nick Herbig.

I think in an ideal world, the staff can bring in a player like Latu, who has multiple years of eligibility remaining to help add experience and depth to the room in case Blaylock is unable to be back by the opener. 

Projected depth chart:

First team: John Torchio (RS SR) and Hunter Wohler* (SO)

Second team: Preston Zachman (RS SO) and Aveyonne Jones (FR)

* Travian Blaylock will likely shift back into the starting lineup if healthy*

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