One word to describe the Badger defensive backfield headed into the Spring? Depth. At safety there are three players with a year-plus of starting experience. Big-hitting Valai is the obvious starter at strong safety, but Pleasant continues to push him and played well in the second half last season. You can't teach height, and that's always a concern with Valai. Free safety is a little tougher to sort out. Shane Carter looked to be a star two years ago, but it hasn't happened yet. Transfer Chris Maragos pushed him for playing time last season, replacing him as the starter for a while. They will continue to battle. Carter looks like he has more raw talent, but in his 5th season, he needs to capitalize on it to hold off Maragos's determined push for the starting spot.
At the corners Aaron Henry returning -- as long as his knee really is fully recovered -- is good news, giving at least the potential for a true lock-down corner. Goins began last season as the starter, but after he went down to injury Niles Brinkley played well. They will battle hard for the starting spot, with one likely becoming the nickel back. I suspect Goins will regain his starting spot, but coach Cooks won't hesitate to go with Brinkley.
Devin Smith and Anthony Fenelus were special teams contributors who are expected to round out the two-deep at the corner spots, and the coaching staff is looking at Otis Merrill as an additional contributor. All have potential, but are unlikely to challenge for the starting positions in 2009.
Looking at a backfield that reads Goins, Valai, Maragos, Henry is reassuring, if not earth shattering. This crew, and their backups, will take a little pressure off of the mostly new defensive line on passing downs. Still, when facing elite receivers, one wonders if they will be able to keep pace.