By Tom Lea
One play stands out so far in relation to Dezmen Southward's career and he wasn't even credited with the tackle. Early on in the 2010 season, Wisconsin was trying to get to the locker room with a slim lead over Arizona State. When the Sun Devil kick returner looked to have broken one of Philip Welch's kicks, it was the speed of Southward that helped prevent a score going into the half. He slowed down the ASU player enough for Shelton Johnson - the player Southward is competing against for the starting strong saftey spot - to make the tackle at the one yard line.
With the way the season played out that proved to be one of the bigger plays of the entire year. Wisconsin went on to win that game by a single point after Jay Valai blocked what would have been the tying extra point late in the fourth quarter. Had Southward not taken such a great angle and gotten enough of that kick returner at the end of the first half that game could have wound up entirely different. And if it did, who knows how the rest of the season would have played out?
Entering 2011, it seems as though Southward's speed -arguably the faster player on the roster - will be utilized much more than just special teams. Having only played football for three full seasons, Southward seems to have turned the corner as a football player and looks to be a contender for the starting strong safety spot. In fact, he passed Shelton Johnson on the depth chart as spring camp wore on.
He's athletic, rangy, quick and extremely fast. His tackling has also improved each season he's been in the UW program. He may not pack as much punch as Valai did back there for the past number of years in regards to big hits, but he will probably offer more consistency in pass coverage simply because his speed will allow him to make plenty of plays.
Whether he earns the starting spot or not by the season opener against UNLV, Southward will play an essential role in the success of the 2011 Badgers. He'll either make plays on special teams or on a down-by-down basis. He's simply too athletic not to get involved.
UP NEXT: No. 22 on our list is a wily veteran who has run into some injury problems throughout his career. His health, if for nothing else, will provide added depth for a position that is relatively young. If he is completely recovered, he'll likely anchor what should be one of the stronger units the Badgers have to offer.