Wisconsin Badgers beat writer Jesse Temple will be analyzing the 25 most important players to the Badgers’ success in the 2014 season. Check back each weekday to see the latest player on the list. You can find every report here.
Note: This is not a list of the team’s 25 best players or a series about past success, but rather which of them means the most to how Wisconsin will fare this year. Criteria such as depth at that player’s position, general expectations and overall importance of that player having a good season are all highly considered. The list does not include incoming freshmen because their potential impact is unknown at this time.
No. 4 — Michael Caputo, safety
Why he’s No. 4
Caputo is the leading returning tackler on the team after recording 63 tackles a year ago, second only to linebacker Chris Borland’s 112. And there might not be a player on the team that is more valuable to Wisconsin’s defense than Caputo. The coaching staff tried moving him to outside linebacker this spring but put him back at safety because other players didn’t develop the way coaches had hoped. His versatility likely will still be on display all season.
You can say all football players are tough, but Caputo is especially hard-nosed. He returned to football after having two vertebrae fused in his neck. All Caputo did was go on to be an honorable mention all-Big Ten pick. With 26 games played and 13 career starts, the redshirt junior from Imperial, Pa., also is one of the team’s most experienced players.
College football guru Phil Steele listed Caputo as his "Mr. Undervalued" among Big Ten defensive players in his preseason publication. Wrote Steele: "Somebody has to replace Borland’s 112 tackles, and it’s a safe bet that the safety will pick up some of the slack."
Most Badgers fans likely will agree with that assessment because Caputo is one of those guys that just makes difficult plays. With two seasons of playing experience under his belt, he has been through virtually every scenario and performed well on the big stage. He tallied a career-high 12 tackles against BYU last season and added 10 more against Arizona State. His name is constantly mentioned as one of the leaders of the entire defensive unit for 2014.
Caputo may not reach 100 tackles this season — although that’s not really so far-fetched — but given that five of the team’s top seven tacklers are gone from a year ago, he could get awfully close. Caputo’s ability to prevent the big play in the passing game will be paramount, especially as Wisconsin’s defense tries to find its stride with a new front seven.
What would they do without him?
The only starting secondary spot truly up for grabs as fall camp approaches is the safety position opposite Caputo, so he will be counted on to be a steadying force at the back end. Players such as Leo Musso, Peniel Jean, Austin Hudson and Nate Hammon all are vying for playing time, but Caputo is the one player you can expect to be on the field almost all the time next season.
Caputo’s toughness and intelligence should rub off on teammates, and his playmaking ability likely will help him to be one of the team’s top tacklers once again.