If there is one position Badger fans shouldn’t be concerned with going into Spring Camp, it’s the Backfield. Heisman Finalist Montee Ball chose to forego the NFL draft and return for his senior season. 2010 B1G Frosh of the year James White also returns, as do the untested Jeff Lewis and Melvin Gordon. Football fans would be hard pressed to find a deeper stable of backs anywhere in the country. Going into the Spring there are few uncertainties about the group, as it will undoubtedly be a source of strength in 2012.
Add in a rehabing feshman early entrant in Vonte Jackson and it’s an even more dynamic bunch. Jackson won’t participate in Spring drills other than to learn the offense, but should be ready to go come Fall Camp as he recovers from a torn ACL suffered in the 1st game of his Senior season at Kenosha Bradford.
Montee Ball (Sr)
Looking back on the 2011 season it’s hard not to be amazed. Including the Rose Bowl, Montee Ball accumulated 1923 rushing yards, 306 receiving yards, and scored 39 total touchdowns. Tying Barry Sanders all-time single-season record for scores is a feat unto itself, as is leading the nation in rushing, being a Heisman Finalist, and earning B1G Player of the Year honors. It’s safe to say that the Badger’s starting running back spot is solid with Ball at the helm. He will go into 2012 as a Heisman frontrunner and pre-season B1G Offensive Player of the Year and All-American.
Questions this Spring
How, if at all, will Montee’s body begin changing as a result of the advice from pro scouts?
Everyone knows why Montee didn’t go into the draft – he felt his 2nd or 3rd round selection prediction was too low. Montee sees himself as an elite back, worthy of 1st round status. He is also committed to his teammates in Madison. Pro scouts suggested to him that he bring his weight up to around 215-220 while maintaining or even increasing his speed, to make him an even more appealing pro prospect. Ball made headlines last year after dropping 25 pounds in the offseason, going from 230 to 205. We all saw the results on the field – Ball had more explosiveness, elusiveness, and burst than in 2010 when he ran top-heavy. It will be interesting to see if Montee has begun to reshape his body once again going into the Spring, and if he has maintained his high level of athleticism and skill which carried him through 2011.
James White (Jr)
2011 was a disappointing season for White. It’s hard to snub your nose at his 863 total yards and 6 touchdowns, as most teams/players would see that as a very successful season. The issue is that going INTO the year, expectations were so much higher. In 2010 White lead the team in rushing, as a true freshman (and backup to 2009 B1G Offensive Player of the Year John Clay). He won B1G Freshman of the Year, and excited the Badger faithful with his speed, agility, and ability to take the ball to the end zone every time he touched it. In 2011 the spark just wasn’t there. White was physically capable of making plays, but something seemed ‘off’ with his decision making, or lack thereof, with the ball in his hands. Who knows why James was in a funk for much of the season, perhaps it was Montee’s rise to stardom (and becoming the lone starter). Regardless, Badger fans know what he is capable of, and hope to see a return to glory for the speedster from St. Thomas Aquainas.
Questions this Spring
Pure and simple: can James White get his mojo back. Somewhat was missing in 2011, and fans are eager to see if his confidence returns, as well as his playmaking. With Ball as the locked starter, I also wonder about how much the coaches will give White touches, and how often he will use those opportunities to showcase his athletic talent. Will White remain on the sidelines (literally and figuratively)? Or will he regain his position alongside Montee?
Jeff Lewis (rs So) & Melvin Gordon (rs Fr)
There isn’t a tremendous amount to say about these two. Both Lewis and Gordon made the most of their few touches in 2011, both scoring touchdowns (1 each), and have decent yards/carry averages (5.7 and 4.9 respectively). Lewis is supposedly the fastest running back at UW, and Gordon came in as a highly touted recruit, both for his speed and power. With Ball and White owning the top 2 spots, fans are still eager to see the growth of Lewis and Gordon as they mature mentally and physically.
Questions this Spring
How will Lewis and Gordon stand out among such good competition? In order to get carries at Wisconsin a running back needs to do 2 things – get positive yardage on every touch, and never fumble. I’ll be looking to see how Lewis and Gordon do in both those departments. With Ball returning for his Senior year, touches will be hard to come by for the youngsters. Spring Ball is a perfect opportunity for each to stand out and make a statement to the coaches that they are ready to play on the big stage, should their number be called.
I will also be looking to see how Gordon returns off his injury from the fall. Reports are scant as to his progress, but fans are hopeful he has made a full and strong recovery.
This is actually a big position of concern for the true Badger faithful. Only they would pay attention to the massive gap at Fullback heading into the 2012 season. For the past 3-4 years, it’s been a non-issue, and in fact, a source of strength, with Bradie Ewing. Now that he has graduated, there is uncertainty at the position. The leading candidate is most likely Sherard Cadogan, who has rotated between TE and FB going back to last spring. After him, several recruits like Jason Hengel and Derek Straus have joined the Badgers who may compete for the spot. While the Badgers run a lot of packages with a FB on the field, they never hand the ball off to them. Bradie Ewing had exactly ZERO carries in 2011, but did find the ball through the air 20 times for 246 yards. At Wisconsin, the FB position is all about blocking, so that is what fans ought to pay attention to this Spring. Which Fullback will emerge as physically and mentally ready to take on the critical task of blocking for the Badger RBs. Who will step up to the challenge and make a name for themselves? Filling Ewing’s shoes won’t be easy, as he was both dominant at his position, and was also a leader in the locker room as Team Captain. Keep an eye out on the FB race this Spring.