MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 28: Taiwan Deal #28 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates scoring a touchdown against the Minnesota Golden Gophers during the second quarter of the game on November 28, 2015 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Future of Badgers backfield stepping up in fall camp

While most positions have focused on the here and now for the 2016 Wisconsin Badgers season, one position with concerns for the near future and long-term future was that of running back.

Heading in to fall camp it appeared senior Corey Clement would headlining the group and fellow senior Dare Ogunbowale becoming the preferred second option like last year. That meant little chance for experience for sophomore Taiwan Deal and redshirt freshman Bradrick Shaw.

But, don’t count Deal or Shaw amongst those believe the depth chart was set in stone.

According to Andy Baggot of UWBadgers.com, Wisconsin’s running back depth chart has changed thanks to the play of Deal over the first 10 practices or so.

What has changed? It appears that Deal has become adept at pass blocking and has showcased an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield unlike any other back on Wisconsin’s depth chart. Expect to see Deal take on a big role in third down situations thanks to the showcase of talent in pass blocking and pass catching.

Doing those things consistently is always a sure-fire way to get the coaching staff to notice you, it also means you become more valuable. However, Deal hasn’t just earned more snaps in the Badgers backfield on those new skills alone.

He has also has become a different kind of running back. While Deal will always have the power side of his game, he has put things in to another gear in terms of speed and elusiveness. Deal isn’t just a bowling ball of a back anymore, and his versatility with and without the ball could mean big things for the Badgers future at running back.

What has been a question mark for the future of the Badgers offense has become a big strength thanks to the improvements of Deal and Shaw.

Running backs coach John Settle has spearheaded that improvement, but he also has been hard on the young players. That combination has lead to Shaw putting himself in the mix to make an unexpected amount of contribution in a supposedly settled backfield.

“He’s in the mix,” Settle told our recruiting partners at Badger247. “The one thing that happens at this level, injuries are part of the game. He’s come out and competed for playing time. He can do some stuff for us in first and second downs.

“I’ve liked the way he’s attacked this thing. He’s big, physical. We’re going to use him in our base package. He’ll also be a special teams guy. He runs well for his size. We’re excited about what he’s doing.”

Settle has shown a lot of faith in the younger backs, which may pay off this season already. However, a position that showed to be a weak point with Clement out last season may now be on solid footing for more than just the season ahead.

We’ll just have to see if practice reps and production can translate to on the field production when the game is for real.

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadger and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, 32flags.com as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10.com

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