The Transformation of Badger Safety Eric Burrell

Author: Wade Flavion

MADISON- After the ACL injury to 2nd-year starter Scott Nelson, and D’Cota Dixon leaving for the NFL, there were lots of question marks about who would fill in at safety this season for the Badgers.

 Eric Burrell and Reggie Pearson have alleviated these concerns for coaches and Badger fans alike. The duo has been remarkable, to say the least, this season. Although Reggie Pearson has had a phenomenal season with 47 total tackles, and 2 forced fumbles in key situations, he is not the focus of the article. I want to understand what happened between last season and this year to make Eric Burrell into the force we have seen this year on defense. 

Burrell at McDonough High School in Maryland

Eric Burrell’s tackle numbers might not seem to have changed from last season to this year, but if you look into his big plays in key moments of games, that is where the real change has occurred. This season Burrell has improved his tackles by 6 over last season, while both missing a game due to suspension and not playing yet in the postseason. As I said, these numbers are not what stands out, it is his big plays. This season Burrell has registered 3 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, a sack, and 6 passes defended. All of these stats came at times in games that the Badgers either needed a turnover or a sack. One example of this in the Michigan game, where before an ejection, he got an interception and a fumble recovery at the end of consecutive long Michigan drives to keep them from being able to put points on the board. His interception against Purdue kept the Badgers ahead in the first half against Purdue and prevented their high powered offense with Randale Moore and talented freshman David Bell from ever-swinging momentum away from the Badgers. His play all season has been in a word, clutch. 

To give a little background on this relatively recent Badger Superstar, we should look at his past. Eric Burrell is from Owings Mills, Maryland and played at McDonogh High School, where he was a 3-star recruit and the 30th ranked safety in the country. He received offers from competing Big 10 schools Nebraska, and his hometown Maryland. Despite these offers, he chose to early enroll at Wisconsin. Since then Eric Burrell’s hard work and unique skill set have set him           Eric Burrell at McDonogh High School

apart from the pack, and has allowed for him to see the field in all three of his seasons as a Badger.

 In his first season, Burrell only saw action near the end of games as a way to get him prepared for his role the following season. In his Sophomore year, Burrell moved into the backup safety role and played extensively as the third safety, and a nickel cornerback. He played extremely well last season, despite not seeing the field as a starter, and had 41 total tacks, 2 forced fumbles, and an interception. This led for Burrell to become an integral part of the Wisconsin secondary, and he was named by 247 sports as the 12th most indispensable Badger at the end of last season. 

So what makes Eric Burrell so unique? I said the word that would describe him earlier was clutch, but as a player, he is far more than that. Burrell has shown a steady improvement in his physical attributes in his time at Wisconsin, and his uncoachable qualities have shown through. Burrell has amazing field vision, from his position at safety he has shown a knack for getting downfield and finding the ball despite any misdirection by the offense. His vision carries over to pass defense as well, where has become known for his violent breakups of passes across the middle and down the field. He is a ball hawk that has developed into a physical specimen at free safety. He has gained weight each year he has been at UW and has gotten the upper-end speed to be able to cover anyone on the field and move coast to coast seamlessly. His weight gain and strength have made him into one of the hardest hitters on the Badgers, and this in cooperation with his ability to get to the ball has led him to be an unstoppable force in games. Burrell’s physical attributes keep improving with the outstanding work ethic that he has shown in his time here at UW, and it leads one to think how good he and Scott Nelson could be next year as a duo. 

This season Eric Burrell has set himself apart from the pack and has been a hard-hitting, lock-on, fast safety that is excellent in all aspects of the game. His improvement has been remarkable, and if he continues at this rate he will have a long NFL career to look forward to.