As the 2009 season approaches, the Wisconsin Badgers have question marks all over the field.
Who will start at quarterback? How will John Clay handle the top spot in the backfield? How will they replace so many starters on defense? Is Bret Bielema on the hot seat?
Even with all those questions in place, it seemed like the secondary would be without a doubt the strongest area on the defensive side of the ball for the Badgers.
With a healthy Aaron Henry joining Niles Brinkley on the corners and seniors Chris Maragos and Jay Valai at safety, Wisconsin appeared to be strongest in terms of starters at the four positions in the defensive backfield.
When you add former starters Aubrey Pleasant and Shane Carter in the mix, depth appeared to be a strength in the secondary as well for Wisconsin.
Fast forward to Saturday when Bret Bielema's squad announced it would be suspending Carter and Pleasant indefinitely, and you've got a whole different story.
Now, instead of tremendous depth at the safety position, the Badgers have more question marks. Sure, Maragos and Valai are strong at their respective positions, but are they good enough to lead a now inexperienced safety corps in addition to the rest of the defense?
According to Bielema, they are.
"Chris and Jay, they can actually interchange between the free and strong (safety) positions," Bielema said Sunday at the team's annual media day. "They were kind of an unknown group a year ago, but now [they] have gotten reps, have played and have done a good job."
Replacing Carter and Pleasant as backups at safety will be redshirt freshman Shelton Johnson as well as true freshman Josh Peprah behind Maragos at free safety and sophomore Kevin Claxton behind Valai at strong safety.
Claxton is a big body, which should make for a strong tackler, but Bielema was impressed by another part of his game this week.
"The thing I've been pleased with is he really broke on the ball well in camp," Bielema said.
Peprah is a player that Bielema says is very focused and goes about his business, and has even turned a few heads so far in camp.
"Against our special teams, he came close to blocking a few kicks," Bielema said. "You could see that he knew how to move in a very efficient manner football-wise."
Bielema also added that he was excited to see how all three players panned out this week as they audition for the backup roles.
So what do the Badgers have in terms of starters and depth in the secondary?
As far as starters, Brinkley is the only question mark among the four, and it's a small question mark at that. Henry, Maragos and Valai have all impressed when given the chance with the Badgers and Brinkley has shown flashes of brilliance despite occasionally being outplayed last season.
With Henry now healthy again after sitting out all of last season, the Badgers get back not only a strong performer on the field, but also a great presence in the huddle, according to Bielema.
"To this point, and I don't want to upset any receivers, maybe the best catch of fall camp was a play that [Henry] made over the middle," Bielema said. "He just kind of accelerated under the player and made a nice play on the ball, attacking it at its highest point and coming up with a great pick."
Maragos, who earned the starting nod last season after out performing Carter, will join Valai as two of the team's senior leaders on a relatively inexperienced defense.
Both were impressive last season as starters and seemed ready to take on a leadership role this spring.
It remains to be seen, however, how much depth they will have behind them and how the Wisconsin secondary will perform when either of the two is not on the field.
Not that uncertainty is anything new with this year's Wisconsin football team.