Lucas at Large: Andersen has history of successful secondary shifts

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Jeff Lewis will be asked to make the transition from the offensive backfield to the defensive backfield when the Badgers convene for fall camp in August.

Gary Andersen played a hunch during his first year as Utah State's head coach, and it paid dividends for the Aggies and Curtis Marsh, a running back that Andersen converted into a cornerback.

Prior to Andersen's arrival, Marsh started three games in each of his first two seasons at Utah State and finished as the team's third leading rusher in 2007 and 2008.

Overall, Marsh had 124 carries for 487 yards. He also had 28 catches. Upon taking over the program, Andersen was looking to plug some holes and shifted Marsh to the secondary in 2009.

"It was maybe my idea,'' Andersen said, "but it was his athleticism and his God-given ability and his want-to that made him able to turn himself into a very good corner in two short years.''

Marsh was a quick study. As a senior, he was Utah State's sixth-leading tackler and earned second-team All-WAC recognition. In the 2011 draft, he was taken in the third round by Philadelphia.

During his first two seasons in the National Football League, the 6-foot-1, 197-pound Marsh has appeared in 22 games, mostly on special teams for the Eagles. He owes it all to a position change.

During a Wednesday radio interview, Andersen said, "It has worked for me in the past -- very well sometimes and sometimes it doesn't work so well moving a running back over there (defense).''

In 2007, Andersen was the defensive coordinator at Utah and got considerable mileage out of cornerback Sean Smith, a converted wide receiver. He was Miami's second-round pick in the 2009 draft.

Citing such personnel moves in general, Andersen said, "You have to be creative sometimes. Every team in the country has holes, they have issues, they have scenarios they go through.''

The Badgers, for example, are seeking to replace three starting defensive backs: Marcus Cromartie, Devin Smith and Shelton Johnson. Safety Dez Southward is the lone returning starter.

During spring practice, Reggie Mitchell, a converted cornerback, got most of the reps opposite Southward. But Mitchell, a redshirt freshman from Pittsburgh, Pa., has since opted to transfer.

Additionally, a potential safety candidate, junior college transfer Donnell Vercher (Fresno City College), will not be attending Wisconsin, prompting Andresen to get "creative'' with his depth chart.

"I have great respect for Reggie and I have great respect for Donnell,'' Andersen said. "We'll move on, we'll still turn on the lights and we'll still jump out there the first day of fall camp. There are a couple of pieces to the puzzle. Dez is the foundation of that safety group and he will continue to be and we will continue to build some young men there (around Southward).''

The first order of business was moving tailback Jeff Lewis to safety. Lewis is a 6-2, 212-pound redshirt junior from Brookfield Central. Last season, he had four rushes for 13 yards while serving as an understudy to Montee Ball and James White. In 2011, he had 33 carries for 187 yards and one score.

"We're going to experiment with that (move) and see how that goes through the summer for him (Lewis) as he prepares himself to play some safety,'' said Andersen, who obviously won't be able to fully evaluate the switch until fall camp. "He's excited and we'll just see how it goes.

"It doesn't always work,'' he reiterated, "but Jeff was unbelievably receptive. He's a tough young man. I don't know how many times he got tackled in the spring. But it was a lot. He played the last practice with a broken thumb and he just kept on banging because he knew the team needed him.''

Andersen also feels comfortable with some of his other options.

"We'll be OK, we'll be just fine at that spot,'' he said. "We didn't really have a starter at the safety position (opposite Southward). As we went through (spring), Reggie did some good things; some other kids did some good things. Trotter and the gang will handle it well and we'll play well back there.''

Michael Trotter, a redshirt junior from Racine, Wis., started three games at safety last season after Shelton Johnson was injured at Oregon State. Michael Caputo, a redshirt sophomore from Imperial, Pa., also received some playing time. Andersen expects other candidates to emerge at safety and corner.

One could be freshman Keelon Brookins, a mid-term high school graduate. Brookins didn't get on the field during the spring because he was rehabbing from a knee injury. The 5-11, 201-pound Brookins, who's from St. Paul, Minn., blew out his ACL during his senior year at Tartan High School.

Cornerback Sojourn Shelton, who's from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and came early in with Brookins, had a solid spring game. "I expect Sojourn to compete and be on the field in the fall in some areas,'' Andersen said. "As far as how much he's involved in special teams and the defense, time will tell.''

Andersen stressed that Shelton needs "to take a step forward in the summer'' phase of training or what Andersen likes to refer as the Third Quarter. On his calendar, the First Quarter is winter conditioning, the Second Quarter is spring ball and the Fourth Quarter is the season.

"I really believe that you win games in the third quarter -- it's the time that team comes together,'' said Andersen, noting the importance of developing leaders from "being together in those situations when the coaches aren't around and they have to coach each other for running practices.''

The Badgers are in the midst of their summer camp season. On Saturday, they will play host to their youth camp-- kindergarten through eighth grade -- at Camp Randall Stadium. The one-day only session will run from 10:30 a.m. through 4 p.m. Parents are welcome to attend.

Registration must be completed online at UWCamps.com.

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