As we inch closer to the start of Badger football fall camp we continue our annual look at each position group heading into camp. We've already looked into the linebackers and wide receivers and today we dive into perhaps the most famous position group at Wisconsin - the running backs.
If anyone tells you Wisconsin won't miss Montee Ball you have our permission to slap them silly. No, seriously... you have our permission to slap them silly because anyone who thinks replacing the all-time touchdown leader in college football history and the man with the 2nd most yards in Badger history will be simple and easy is crazy.
However, don't expect a complete drop-off either, so let us explore why we say both of those things as we take a look at the running back position group heading into 2013.
Wisconsin has the nation's 2nd leading returning rusher in James White, who has 2,571 career rushing yards and is only behind USC's Silas Redd in career rushing yards. White also has 32 rushing touchdowns for his career. Then there's sophomore Melvin Gordon who ran for over 200 yards on just 9 carries in the Big Ten Championship game. This backfield has the potential to be the best home run hitting duo in Wisconsin history.
Montee Ball is no longer in the backfield and with him gone so to are his 77 rushing touchdowns and 5,140 yards rushing for a career. Let's not forget that Ball rushed for over 1,800 yards by himself in each of the last two seasons as well and replacing that kind of production isn't going to be that simple... Or at least it shouldn't be.
Questions Entering Camp:
Is there enough depth at running back? Yes, White and Gordon should be a heck of a one-two punch, but what happens should one of them go down to injury? Only one option remains behind them and that is incoming freshman Corey Clement. Beyond that the only option that could be available to this team is using Derek Watt has a running back and head coach Gary Andersen made it clear he didn't want that to happen at all this past week at Big Ten Media Days.
Can Gordon play between the tackles? Pop quiz... How many of Gordon's yards last season came with runs between the tackles? Let's put it this way... he rushed the ball on the outside in about 95% of situations in 2012. This is a question I'm not so worried about thanks to Gordon's performance in the spring game. He looked very comfortable rushing between the tackles and frankly with a bit more practice there it's going to be tough for any defense to guess where he's going. He is one of the best cut back backs I've seen in a Badger uniform and that's dangerous in the open field between the tackles.
Will White/Gordon Stay Healthy? One of the concerns that some have is that James White and Melvin Gordon aren't exactly the biggest backs in the world and therefore are worried about the wear and tear of a full season of carries on White and Gordon. I don't buy it because neither is going to be getting 300 carries or anything crazy. In fact, I'd be surprised if any of them have more than 150 carries a piece. Besides that I expect the new offense to limit the pounding by wanting to get these guys in space more often than not as well. This isn't a huge concern of mine.
Player(s) to Watch:
Corey Clement - His development in camp is MASSIVE and according to James White he's coming along very well and looks good through the summer. He was one of the biggest targets in the 2013 recruiting class and his role in the offense will be huge thanks to a lack of anyone else on the roster. However, we should be watching to see if he is ready when the pads go on and the hitting is real. Wisconsin needs Clement this season and if he's not up to the task in camp it will be interesting to see what Andersen and Ludwig do.
Derek Watt - Andersen sees a lot of potential in Watt as a true fullback and a pass catching option out of the backfield. How this offense uses him will be fun to watch and could be a huge wrinkle that teams will have to account for this fall. Watt is athletic and showed last year, as a true freshman, that his capable of being a very reliable pass catching option.
Probable Depth Chart:
|Position||1st team||2nd team|
|RB||James White||Melvin Gordon|
|FB||Derek Watt||Kevin MacCudden|