By TOM LEA
MADISON – During last month’s Big Ten media days inside the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place on the south side of Chicago, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema continually said he was hoping for a smarter defense, a smarter secondary.
He, just as the rest of the world did with two late-game losses, noticed too many miscues that allowed opponents big play opportunities. Whether it was plays during the drive that ultimately ended in a ridiculous ‘Hail Mary’ catch from Keith Nichol or Braxton Miller’s touchdown pass to Devin Smith, there were plenty of blown assignments throughout the course of the regular season — and Rose Bowl for that matter — that cost the Badgers games.
Shelton Johnson, UW’s lone returning safety starter, said preventing mental miscues so far this fall camp has been a huge priority.
“You achieve it by focus,” Johnson, one of six newly named captains, said. “You have to have 100 percent focus on every play. I know as you get into the fourth quarter or as you get to the end of practice you start getting into this monotonous routine. Sometimes coming down on the run action you kind of stop looking.
“Reading your keys is how you avoid all that stuff so coaches give us keys, objectives and disciplines to do.”
Representing half of the last line of defense, Johnson — directly involved in both ‘Hail Mary’ losses a year ago — knows the value placed on the safety position. He knows he is responsible for making the right calls so the defense is aligned properly. He also knows Dezmen Southward is a new starter playing alongside him, starting for the first time in his collegiate career.
One can legitimately expect inconsistencies from any newcomer, but that’s something that needs to be addressed now.
“Consistency was definitely a big issue last year,” Johnson said. “That did kind of lead to those big plays and those big pops that did lead on. So all through spring and all throughout the summer and now in fall camp our coaches have stressed consistency.
“It’s been one of our main goals.”
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