Badgers might use two backs to utilize strength

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Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Thursday, April 12, 2012
— When you boast four tailbacks with college experience, including two who have rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a season, and the group is led by a returning All-American and legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, maximizing their collective talents isn’t easy.

One option is to line up with two tailbacks in certain situations, and based on Wisconsin’s fifth practice of the spring Tuesday, the Badgers hope to employ that strategy in 2012.

“Whatever you can do to maximize your (talent),” first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada said after practice when asked about the new look. “We’re going to be as simple as we can for our players and hopefully complex for the other side.

“Two running backs … it’s certainly giving them a different look.”

Barring injury, UW will enter next season with senior Montee Ball, junior James White, redshirt sophomore Jeff Lewis and redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon battling for playing time ahead of freshman Vonte Jackson.

Ball rushed for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. White rushed for 1,052 yards as a freshman and 713 yards last season.

Gordon averaged 4.9 yards per carry in four games before sitting out the remainder of last season because of a groin injury. Lewis played in seven games and averaged 5.7 yards per carry.

Ball had six touchdown catches and 24 catches overall last season. He averaged 12.8 yards per catch.

White had 15 catches and averaged 10.0 yards.

Gordon didn’t have a catch but has shown in practice his hands are as dependable as Ball’s and White’s.

“When you look out there right now, Thomas has got some pretty good players,” Canada said, referring to running backs coach Thomas Hammock. “Not to say that everybody else doesn’t, but we’re going to get our best players on the field.

“We’ve got guys who can catch it, who can run it. And again, let’s try to maximize our best.”

At times Tuesday, one of the tailbacks was lined up in the backfield with a second tailback in the slot. At other times, both backs were in the backfield.

“You just want to make sure you continue to focus on the things that are going to make you successful,” Hammock said. “Maybe put some new tweaks into the offense and utilize some guys’ skills.”

Remember, too, that with the departure of Bradie Ewing UW has no experienced fullback.

Redshirt sophomore Sherard Cadogan and redshirt freshman Derek Strauss, a walk-on from Waunakee, are getting work at fullback this spring.

Cadogan, 6 feet 3 inches and 236 pounds, is a converted tight end who did not record a catch last season.

Strauss, 6-0 and 230, rushed 134 times for 1,048 yards and 19 touchdowns and caught 27 passes for 628 yards and six touchdowns in high school.

Hammock smiled when asked whether the backs like the idea of seeing two tailbacks on the field at the same time.

“The ultimate goal is to play,” he said. “That is what they’re fighting for this spring.”

Extra points

-- Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis (foot) will be held out the entire spring but should be ready for summer workouts in June.

-- Reserve cornerback Devin Gaulden, who missed all of preseason camp as a freshman last year while recovering from surgery on his right leg (stress fracture), is out again. According to coach Bret Bielema, Gaulden is experiencing similar issues in his left leg, though surgery is not an option at this point. “It is healing,” Bielema said.

-- Reserve defensive end Tyler Dippel (plantar fasciitis) sat out the second half of practice. “We knew it was a nagging injury,” Bielema said, “but today he felt a pop more than he had ever felt before.”

Last updated: 8:10 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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