Even without Clay, UW backfield loaded
Despite the early departure to the National Football League of veteran John Clay, the Badgers could be better at tailback than last season when they rushed for 48 touchdowns and averaged 245.7 rushing yards per game.
Through the first two weeks of preseason camp, junior tailback Montee Ball has been arguably the most impressive player on the field.
That isn’t a criticism of UW’s other front-line players. Rather, it is a testament to the superior play of Ball, who has displayed speed, quickness and has made decisive cuts. He has also displayed power as a runner and a blocker despite dropping more than 20 pounds, down to 207, since the Rose Bowl.
Yet Ball (996 yards, 18 TDs last season) wasn’t the most dynamic runner during a scrimmage Thursday at Camp Randall Stadium.
That honor belonged to touted freshman Melvin Gordon. The standout from Kenosha Bradford High School got his most extended work of the season, much of it with the No. 1 offense, and appears to have moved ahead of redshirt freshman Jeff Lewis and into the No. 3 spot on the depth chart.
Gordon, listed at 6-1, 200 pounds, showed his speed on several runs. That included a 58-yard touchdown run down the sideline that was wiped out by a penalty.
Gordon also continued to show the ability to lower his pads on runs between the tackles and catch the ball effortlessly out of the backfield.
“When you see guys make big plays,” defensive tackle Ethan Hemer said of Gordon, “that sticks out in your head. Melvin does a great job.
“But when players come out and make it a habit to make big plays, that is when you start to say: ‘Yeah, he can be a key contributor.’?”
With Ball, sophomore James White, Gordon and Lewis in the mix, UW should have as many tailback options as any team in the Big Ten.
White appears stronger in the lower body and just as quick as last season when he led UW in rushing with 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Lewis, from Brookfield Central High School, drew raves from the staff last season. He has put together a solid camp but recently has been overshadowed by the play of Gordon.
Fullback Bradie Ewing can’t be left out of the discussion because of his blocking and receiving skills.