August 31, 2010

Ash excited to watch secondary in opener

MADISON - Chris Ash didn't go so far as to announce the starting cornerback lineup Sunday afternoon when he was available to reporters. He did make it clear that three players were still in the running for the opening day nod.

In an attempt to learn more about the cornerback position heading into Saturday's season opener at UNLV, BadgerBlitz.com took some time to discuss the secondary with Ash.

The following is a question and answer with the first-year UW secondary coach.

Are you starting to see the separation at the top of the cornerback position that you'd like to see at this point?

Ash: Yeah, it's probably sorted out how we thought it would. The three guys that have played the most and are older have kind of separated themselves.

That would be Niles Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith?

Ash: Yeah.

Where does Marcus Cromartie fall into that group? Has he done enough this fall camp to earn some trust and get out there?

Ash: Oh absolutely. He's done a really nice job. All through last spring he progressed and got better and into the summer. He had a really nice training camp, too.

Is it important to you to have four guys able to rotate at the corner spot?

Ash: Not necessarily rotation, no, but to have four guys you can count on to build the two deep, yeah. I'm not a huge believer in rotating a bunch of guys. I'm going to go with the guys that we can trust to play together and can be the best players on game day. Whoever that is will be who plays. We don't necessarily have starters or backups. We have guys that are the next man in and we have plenty of guys that will be ready for the next man in.

You haven't named starters or anything?

Ash: We have not, no.

Is that something that is going to happen later in the week?

Ash: Yeah, it will happen at some point. We just have not got to the point where we feel comfortable in doing that yet.

So there is still a chance for all three of these guys…

Ash: Absolutely. All three are going to play. They'll all be on the field in certain situations at the same time. It's just a matter of who is going to go out there and line up at the corner position to start.

Does it really matter who starts, or is it like you said before, you just have to be comfortable with the two guys that are?

Ash: Yeah, it doesn't really matter to us. In the end, it's who can we trust and who's going to get it done on Saturday. It doesn't matter the jersey number. It's what they're going to do for us on the field.

At the safety position has Jay Valai come back and picked up where he left off before he got hurt?

Ash: Yeah, Jay is our guy. There is no doubt about it. He's the guy that has played the most and has had the most production on Saturday's. He's our guy.

You've got to like what Shelton Johnson was able to do throughout fall camp in Jay's absence though.

Ash: Yeah, Shelton has come a long way. He's done a nice job. He's providing us a lot of depth at both safety positions. We're not sure what we would have but he's been a pleasant surprise.

Does he have pretty good ball skills? Is he a decent anticipator?

Ash: Yeah, he does. We all have to get better with our ball skills in the secondary but Shelton has good hands. He does a nice job reading and anticipating what the quarterback's intentions are. The kid can run pretty good too.

Kind of going off to another safety in Dezmen Southward, I know we talked about him being a stalwart on special teams and that he'd be on most units. If he were able to produce pretty well on that, could that open some doors for him to get into the secondary regular rotation?

Ash: It would help. Special teams are different than lining up on offense or defense. There's guys that can play great on special teams and for whatever reason it doesn't click on offense or defense so it takes a little more time mostly because of the adjustments you have to see and react to on both sides of the ball versus special teams. Dez has done a nice job. He's still only been a safety for three weeks. It's hard to pick up all the things you need to know and feel comfortable with all your responsibilities in three weeks. He's come a long way and at some point he'll help our football team.

I know you've only been around for a certain number of months going back to spring ball, but have you noticed a confidence out of Aaron Henry back there at a new position?

Ash: Yeah, Aaron has done a nice job.

Is he ready to go?

Ash: He's ready to go. He's excited. There has been so much talk about his freshman year and how bad he's been after an injury. I don't see it that way. The kid needed a home and he's found a home. He feels comfortable and he's been getting reps at the same position. He's not trying to learn one, two or three different spots. It's one and he feels more comfortable with that. I think you'll definitely see a different Aaron Henry on the field.

Is he one of the more mentally strong guys in the back unit of the secondary?

Ash: Yeah, we have to be strong individually but we've got to be strong as a group together. Where he may lack something Jay Valai maybe has a strength and vice versa. They really play off each other and really help each other with all that.

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