MADISON, Wis. If Wisconsin's secondary depth contained questions during spring practices, those questions have already increased as the team's summer workouts begin.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, safety Reggie Mitchell, a redshirt freshman, has left the Wisconsin program. WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh reported Mitchell had been released from his scholarship and would transfer to play for his hometown school, the University of Pittsburgh.
The move seemingly comes at a curious time because Mitchell was in the mix to be a starter at safety alongside senior Dezmen Southward next season. Mitchell competed in the spring with the No. 1 defense at safety, and Badgers coach Gary Andersen sounded pleased with his progress.
"I'm excited about what he did," Andersen told Sirius XM's College Sports Nation show in May. "I believe as a freshman coming in he is going to lock down one of those safety spots."
If Mitchell does indeed transfer to Pitt, he would be reunited with offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph and head coach Paul Chryst. Rudolph recruited Mitchell to Wisconsin before leaving for Pitt in 2012 after Chryst, the Badgers' former offensive coordinator, was hired to run the program.
Mitchell, a 6-foot, 183-pounder, played his high school football at Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh.
"This is news to me," Mitchell's high school coach, Dave Havern, told FOXSportsWisconsin.com on Wednesday when reached by phone. "I can't comment one way or another other than Reggie is a great kid and a great athlete."
Junior college transfer Donnell Vercher is the Wisconsin player most likely to step in and start at safety, although Michael Trotter should provide a stiff challenge as well. Vercher registered 23 tackles and eight interceptions at Fresno (Calif.) City College to earn All-American honors. Trotter, meanwhile, started three games last season and finished the year with 24 tackles and a sack.
Wisconsin is also bringing in junior college transfer T.J. Reynard, who began his career at Independence (Kan.) Community College at cornerback but moved to safety. Reserve running back Jeff Lewis already reportedly moved to safety and could help with the team's depth.
Andersen on O'Brien: Badgers coach Gary Andersen discussed quarterback Danny O'Brien's departure for the first time Wednesday on 100.5-FM ESPN Madison radio.
O'Brien, who will be a redshirt senior, was not in Madison for the start of the Badgers' summer workouts Monday. Instead, he was back in his hometown of Kernersville, N.C., evaluating his playing options. If he transfers down to the FCS level, he would be eligible to play immediately and reportedly could wind up at Towson in the Baltimore area.
O'Brien transferred from Maryland to Wisconsin last summer under the graduate student exception rule and earned the starting quarterback job out of fall camp. He started the first three games but struggled to move the offense and hold onto the football and was relegated to a backup role the rest of the season. He would have begun this season fourth or fifth on the quarterback depth chart.
"Danny is an incredible young man," said Andersen, who was at a Mendota Gridiron Club event. "He's a great kid. He's had some ups and downs in his career. We started this adventure back in January and I told him we were going to be up front and honest. Danny was the same with us all the way through the process. I don't expect every kid to agree with everything that we say. But he respected where we were.
"I want him to be successful. We just sat down, had a conversation at the end of the spring. He wants to play football and he should want to play football and he knows he can. His want-to to move on and go play was there, and I supported him and helped him all the way through the process as much as I can. Still don't know for sure where he's going to go, but there's a lot of places out there that want him, and if I can continue to help him now and 10 years from now, I'll do so."
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