Going into the 2020 season, Eric Burrell was the headliner of the Badgers safeties. Although Reggie Pearson not being medically cleared definitely hurt, Scott Nelson and Colin Wilder played well and gave the Badgers something to look forward to this season. While Burrell didn’t have the year most people envisioned, he brought much-needed leadership to this group and provided solid play at free safety for the Badgers.
Scott Nelson was easily the most improved player in the secondary. After battling consistency problems his redshirt freshman year and losing 2019 with a knee injury, Nelson lead the team in interceptions with two and was a solid tackler. Although he didn’t play in Week 1, his play seemed to improve as the season went on.
The Badgers also got great play from former Houston transfer, Colin Wilder. Wilder did a great job stopping the run and seemed to have a better grasp of Jim Leonhard’s scheme in his second year of playing time. A big highlight occurred in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl when he intercepted a pass and nearly scored.
Back-up safeties John Torchio, Travian Blaylock, and Tyler Mais all made nice contributions on special teams. Titus Toler found his way onto the field and had an interception against Michigan before going down for the rest of the season with an injury.
Heading into 2021, Eric Burrell has declared for the NFL Draft and Reggie Pearson is in the transfer portal. Both players brought playmaking abilities and leadership skills that’ll be missed. Although the Badgers are losing two key players, the position is in good hands.
Scott Nelson had a great year in 2020 and is expected to take over Eric Burrell’s role at free safety. Nelson will be the leader of this group in his final year on campus, as he’s a very vocal player and brings lots of energy to the secondary.
With Pearson leaving, Wisconsin is counting on Collin Wilder to be a difference-maker at strong safety. He has lots of experience playing the position and should once again be a playmaker for Jim Leonhard. While Titus Toler might put up a fight in camp, I think Wilder will ultimately be lining up next to Nelson against Penn State.
Jim Leonhard likes to rotate safeties in and put as many as three on the field. Even if Toler doesn’t start, I’d expect him to have a role on gameday aside from special teams. Out of the younger players who played last season, he’s the only one who saw playing time in 2020.
Another player to keep an eye on is back-up free safety, John Torchio. Torchio has an abundance of potential but needs more grooming. He redshirted in 2018 and appeared in a total of 13 games between 2019 and 2020. In his career, he’s recorded seven tackles, one tackle for a loss, an interception, and three passes broken up. He even had three tackles in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Torchio has a lot of momentum going for him heading into 2021. He also brings an interesting background as he’s from California but chose to walk on at Wisconsin. While that’s not a complete surprise as his older sister Katharine was a soccer player at UW, most walk-ons come from the Badger State.
Another wild card player to watch in camp is Travian Blaylock. He was originally recruited as a cornerback but switched to safety. To preserve his redshirt, he only appeared in four games in 2018, in which time he recovered a fumble; but in 2019 his playing dropped to just one game. The 2020 season marked his first year at safety and he only played on special teams. A full off-season will be beneficial for Blaylock as he looks to crack the two-deep as a safety.
On the recruiting front, the Badgers were able to swipe four-star safeties Hunter Wohler and Braelon Allen. Currently, the Badgers are thinking about having Allen switch positions. I could also see him as a hybrid as well. Nevertheless, both are highly lauded recruits and represent the future of the position.
Overall the Badgers have a lot of experience returning to the position. With so much experience returning, I don’t expect any younger players to have much playing time aside from special teams. I’m expecting the safeties to be even better than last season now that they’re getting a spring practice.