University of Wisconsin defensive backs Caesar Williams, Patrick Johnson and Eric Burrell could have wasted away their post-practice time this fall by doing a number of things one would expect from typical college freshmen.
The roommates couldn’t think of a better way to spend that time, though, than heading home and popping in some film.
Throughout fall camp, the three watched every rep they participated in and discussed how they could improve and work together more closely the next time they were in certain situations.
“We communicate as if we’re on the field in our room and tell each other what we could help do here to just make better plays on the ball,” Williams said. “I think that’s what helped me get into the two-deep. Just doing extra, going the extra mile, doing what others probably won’t do when they get home, instead of just going to sleep or going out.”
There may not have been a bigger depth chart surprise than Williams’ inclusion on the list at backup cornerback over redshirt freshman Titus Booker. Johnson’s second-team spot at safety wasn’t expected, either. While Burrell wasn’t included on the depth chart, he took third-team reps throughout camp and likely wasn’t far off.
The Badgers enter the season with more concern in the secondary than any other position on the field, and these freshmen have done enough to gain the trust of the coaching staff.
“I think they flashed some play-making ability throughout camp, and I think they have a decent grasp on the defense,” UW defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard said of Williams and Johnson. “It’s still a work in progress, obviously, but they’re guys that came in with the attitude to go out there and compete, and that was the first thing that we liked.
“They’ve definitely played well. We liked the vets that we had coming in, and those guys came in and competed. They’ve earned the chance to travel and to have an opportunity to play.”
Leonhard, an All-America safety for the Badgers who played 10 seasons in the NFL, said Johnson has some explosion to his game when he sees a play develop early. He’s done a better job recognizing pre-snap reads throughout fall camp, which helps him play fast.
Williams proved himself to Leonhard during live scrimmages and also intercepted a few passes over the final week of fall camp.
“My plan was to just come up here and work as hard as I can,” said Williams. “(I’ve been) consistent and making clutch plays at the right time, right moments — third downs, causing turnovers, interceptions, and more importantly (making those plays) on the older guys like Reggie (Love) and Rob (Wheelwright).”
Williams and Johnson both said they were at least a little surprised to see their name on the depth chart last week.
The work they did, along with Burrell, to help each other out during their first two months on campus has paid off earlier than expected, and the trio hopes to carry that forward over the next four or five years.
“We made sure we were doing the right things, made sure we were all going to practice, all going to film study, all doing the extra work after practice,” Johnson said. “This wasn’t really planned to be in the two-deep, but we did work towards it. That was one of our goals when we committed here, and we’re just going to keep striving and pushing forward.”
“We liked the vets that we had coming in, and those guys came in and competed. They’ve earned the chance to travel and to have an opportunity to play.” Jim Leonhard,
UW defensive backs coach, on freshman defensive backs Caesar Williams and Patrick Johnson