Shaw, James primed to breakout in 2017

Running back Bradrick Shaw will have an increased role on UW's offense this season. 

Image By: Gage Meyer

Despite the presence of record-setting running backs like Ron Dayne and Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin’s rushing attack has long been known more for its “plug-and-play” consistency than for the outstanding talents of any particular players. But after graduating tailbacks Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale, who accounted for almost three-quarters of the carries given to UW running backs last season, 2017 will test the Badgers ability to integrate new ball carriers into the offense.

The Badgers enter the year with a number of viable options to replace Clement and Ogunbowale, but no established starter. Leading the way are a pair of backs hand picked by head coach Paul Chryst; sophomore Bradrick Shaw and junior Chris James.

Shaw, who racked up 457 yards on 88 carries as a redshirt freshman last season, emerged from spring practices as the presumptive feature back. At 6’1 and 220 pounds, with a reported time of 4.55 seconds in the 40-yard dash, the Birmingham, Alabama native has all the speed and power necessary to be a successful ball carrier, but still needs to improve on his pass blocking and knowledge of the playbook to secure the starting spot. Shaw has an incredible amount of potential, and the Badgers are simply waiting for that to catch up to him.

If Shaw struggles, the next man up will be junior Chris James. James initially played under Chryst at Pittsburgh before transferring to Madison to reunite with his former coach. At 5’10, James is smaller and quicker than Shaw, and his receiving abilities make him a good option as a third down back.

The competition between Shaw and James has been tight throughout training camp, although James’ experience appears to have given him the edge over Shaw for the time being.

“I think right now [James] probably gives you the best chance of going out and starting a game and being effective,” Running Backs Coach John Settle said to Land Of 10’s Jesse Temple during spring camp. “Right now those guys are going in as we alternate series.”

True freshman Jonathan Taylor initially wasn’t expected to play much of a role this season on a team that generally redshirts its running backs, but the New Jersey native who broke Clement’s state rushing record has impressed the coaches and likely earned himself a chance to play at some point in the season. A two-time state champion in the 100 meter dash, Taylor’s speed provides a different look at the tailback position. Heading into week one, he is listed as one of the Badgers’ top running backs in the team’s official depth chart.

Junior Taiwan Deal, who missed time last season and all of this year’s spring camp with injuries, might also potentially be an option if he manages to stay healthy. Deal ran for more than 500 yards as a freshman, and could feature more prominently in the offense if he can regain that form.

Although James appears likely to start against Utah State, it is still Shaw who is the man likely to take the mantle previously held by Gordon and Clement as Wisconsin’s feature ball-carrier. His ability to handle the starting job and rush for 1,000 yards or more will be crucial in Wisconsin’s pursuit of another division title and a return trip to Indianapolis.

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