Most college football programs around the country would be more than pleased with a proven running back like senior James White. However, as alluded to in Wednesday’s feature, the running back tradition at Wisconsin is unlike any other, as redshirt sophomore running back Melvin Gordon is a guy who could start at almost any other Division 1 program.
Standing at 6-foot-1 and weighing in at 203 pounds, Gordon possesses the physical attributes to be an every-down back and proved that to a certain extent last year in a limited role, as he rushed for 621 yards on 62 carries—an absurd average of 10 yards per carry, which led the country. And even though Gordon has not put up staggering career numbers like White or other running backs in past seasons, his Adrian Peterson-type body frame coupled with sheer athleticism may elevate him to one of the best Wisconsin has seen in quite some time, according to ESPN Big Ten writer Adam Rittenberg.
“When you look at Melvin Gordon, you see a guy size-wise who looks like a featured back,” Rittenberg told The Daily Cardinal. “Melvin may have the highest ceiling of any of these backs... He may be the best of the bunch.”
You don’t need to tell that twice to Gordon, who also acknowledged his potential after the conclusion of Saturday’s annual spring game.
“I still need work, obviously, but I think I can be really good,” Gordon said.
With White’s carries being limited for precautionary reasons throughout much of spring practice, including the spring game, those in attendance got a small glimpse of what Gordon can do in a more featured role. He put together a string of strong spring practices and capped it off with a strong performance Saturday, carrying the ball 17 times for 74 yards and a touchdown.
While a plethora of praise has been and will continue to be deviated toward White and Gordon, let’s not forget running backs coach Thomas Hammock still has the luxury of three more capable backs in redshirt junior Jeff Lewis, redshirt freshman Vonte Jackson and incoming freshman Corey Clement.
“Jackson—if he can stay healthy—is a guy to watch. I think Clement is the guy who people are really excited about in Madison,” Rittenberg said. “You also have Jeff Lewis, who at many schools, would probably be a backup or maybe even a starter.”
If you look historically at the depth charts when guys like Brent Moss, Ron Dayne, Michael Bennett, Montee Ball and other great running backs who played for Wisconsin, their respective depth charts had nowhere near as much competition as 2013’s depth chart will have with White, Gordon, Lewis, Jackson and Clement.
Yes, I know 2010’s three-headed monster of John Clay, Ball and White was unreal in terms of productivity. Yet, if you compare from top-to-bottom, number one through number five on the depth chart, the 2013 unit reigns supreme, which leads to the question: How will new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig utilize this crowded backfield?
“I think it’s a bit of a different dynamic because it’s a new offense, new coaching staff,” Rittenberg said. “All signs really point toward to [Ludwig] using the backs in a more broad role, not just guys carrying the ball but coming out of the backfield and catching the ball.”
When next year’s fall camp rolls around, there will be a slew of new coaches on the offensive side of the ball, which in turn will lead to new offensive schemes within the playbook. However, the stability of the running backs unit will remain the same, just like it has been for the past two decades.