By Tom Lea
When asked about the way new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash was implementing a more physical, pressing style with the cornerbacks, Devin Smith's eye lit up.
"I think we're definitely going to do a lot more. I think coach (Chris Ash) has a lot of trust in us and every single day is a challenge to keep working on it. He wants to see every single day if we're improving. The one-on-one drill with the receiver carries a long way as well. Doing those certain things will help us give him the confidence to make those certain calls."
And frankly, judging by the way the Badger secondary struggled, particularly in the Rose Bowl, to get off the field during third and manageable situations that typically led to passing, playing in a manner that will give Ash the confidence to press will do nothing but work wonders for both Smith and the rest of the Badger secondary.
Smith, who received accolades entering his junior season, failed to really build off that success and was limited to mostly playing in nickel and dime situations. Now, with the departure of Niles Brinkley, it seems as though Smith is the No. 1 contender to earn the starting spot opposite the veteran Antonio Fenelus.
If spring camp was any indication, one that smith capped with an interception during the annual spring game, it seems as though he has been able to turn the corner and focus on the little things that will inevitably help he become the player some thought he was at this time a year ago.
"My mindset (entering spring camp) was that I want to be the best out there," Smith said. "I want to work every single day. I have one year left and I just want to go out there and be the best player I can be and not have any regrets where I say I wish I could have done this or I wish I could have worked harder or that I wish I would have studied more. I want to make sure that every single day I can look back and say I did a good job so I have no regrets on that day."
When breaking down this 2011 team it seems as though the offense is in pretty solid shape, save for a quarterback position that remains very much up in the air. The running back duo of Montee Ball and James White is the best in the Big Ten, the offensive line is probably top three material in the conference and there are some skill positions loaded with talented players.
The success of this team, then, will be determined by the play of the defense. Can a guy like Smith, a player who has seen solid playing time at different junctures of his career, build off the success he had this past spring? If he's able to, the UW secondary will be in much better shape this fall.
UP NEXT: No. 17 on our list is a player that has incredible athleticism for his size. He will have an opportunity this fall to make an impact at a defensive position that's been mighty good to the Badgers over the past two seasons.