Badgers to use rotating cornerbacks
That’s the plan University of Wisconsin secondary coach Kerry Cooks intends to use this week against Wofford and for the foreseeable future.
“My philosophy right now is that I’ve got four guys that are talented enough,” Cooks said of his top four cornerbacks, “and I’m not opposed to doing what I went through last year, having guys split the reps.”
Cooks generally relied on three cornerbacks last season—Allen Langford, Niles Brinkley and Mario Goins. Langford started all 13 games. Goins and Brinkley split time, with Goins starting six games and Brinkley seven.
The top four cornerbacks this season—sophomore Devin Smith, sophomore Aaron Henry, sophomore Antonio Fenelus and Brinkley, a junior—all endured rough moments in Week 2 against Fresno State.
Smith, the most consistent from the opening day of camp, should get his third start of the season Saturday.
Henry, who missed last season while recovering from two knee surgeries, was ill Saturday and played poorly before being replaced in the opening quarter by Fenelus. He might need to show this week he’s healthy and willing to play aggressively to stay in the starting lineup.
Fenelus, who emerged as the third cornerback in the opener, and Brinkley have yet to show they can avoid lapses for long periods of time.
“Niles is one of the better corners, but he’s not a starter because he is inconsistent,” Cooks said.
“But if I can give Niles 30 or 40 plays a game and he can be consistent and Fenelus can be consistent for the other plays, now you’ve got a complete player out of two.
“And you’re also building depth, so if somebody gets hurt you’re not afraid to put them in the game.”
Cooks and defensive coordinator Dave Doeren admitted the cornerbacks played tentatively and too often abandoned their technique, particularly by allowing too much cushion to the Fresno State receivers, in the first half.
Fresno State quarterback Ryan Colburn passed for 172 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. He passed for 117 yards and a touchdown in the second half and overtimes and threw three interceptions.
“I think in the second half you saw a different deal,” Doeren said. “I think you saw tighter coverage. Fresno’s first game they didn’t throw the ball very much. We came into our game with not a real good clue of what their passing game was going to look like.”
Henry appeared to give up five receptions for 52 yards on the Bulldogs’ second possession, a nine-play, 59-yard touchdown drive. That included a 13-yard touchdown pass on which Henry allowed too much cushion on an underneath route and never had a chance to make a tackle.
Smith was beaten badly by Devon Wylie for a 70-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter because he didn’t allow enough of a cushion while in single coverage. In short, he got caught between press coverage and his prescribed depth.
“He got caught in no man’s land and Wylie is pretty fast, so you don’t want to get caught in no man’s land on that guy,” Doeren said. “And the guy got behind him and it was over.”
Fenelus was beaten for a 14-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter because he failed to trust his technique and understand he had safety help to the post.
When Fresno State wide receiver Seyi Ajirotutu ran a post-corner, Fenelus was caught peeking into the backfield and bit on the post move. He had no chance to recover when Ajirotutu broke to the corner for the easy catch.
When Cooks reviewed the game with the members of the secondary, he asked the players how many times he reminded them to avoid peeking into the backfield.
The players’ response: at least 1,000 times, coach.
“There is no drill to train your eyes,” Cooks said. “That is self-discipline.”
Cooks cautioned the defensive backs during the week that Fresno State’s receivers as a group would compare favorably to any unit they will see in the Big Ten Conference.
“I think that some of the guys weren’t quite sure how fast Wylie was or how fast Ajirotutu was,” Cooks said. “So that first half they came out playing a little tentative… .
“We challenged them (at halftime). I think once they got used to the game speed of Ajirotutu and Wylie, they settled in.”