Wisconsin Football: Montee Ball Assault Puts Spotlight on Badgers' Backup RBs
It's been one full day since Montee Ball was beaten by five unknown assailants and hospitalized, and thus far all we know is that according to Wisconsin medical staff, Ball suffered a concussion in the attack.
It's not a full-on catastrophe—he was released from the hospital after two hours and tweeted out a message to fans later that morning that he'll be all right—but we're still talking about a significant head injury to the Big Ten's top running back.
Since Wisconsin opens camp in just a matter of days, it's full-on insane to think that Ball's going to be practicing with the team right away. In fact, he'll likely miss at least two of the four weeks of preseason practices. Thus, it's time to take a look at the guys behind the guy: Montee Ball's backups.
James White: Junior, 5'10", 197; 141 carries, 713 yards, 5.1 ypc, 6 TDs
White was ahead of Ball in the Wisconsin pecking order as recently as the middle of the 2010 season, and there's a reason for that. He was the consensus 2010 Freshman of the Year in the Big Ten, rolling up 1,052 yards and 14 TDs while splitting carries with Ball and John Clay. His career stats include a 5.9 yards-per-carry average, 20 rushing TDs and a hair over 20 yards a pop in kick returns.
That said, White's clearly a step behind Ball at this point (but who isn't?) and Wisconsin's offense sputtered significantly against Michigan State's defense in East Lansing last year when Ball was out. White's probably not the second-best running back in the conference—not even with Silas Redd out in Los Angeles—but he's not going to let Badgers fans down if Ball ends up missing any of the regular season.
Melvin Gordon: Sophomore, 6'1", 205; 20 rushes, 98 yards, 4.9 ypc, 1 TD
When it's time to find a feature back in 2013, don't be surprised if White gets pushed for the role in a big way by Gordon. Gordon was an electric rusher in high school and has been successful transitioning into an every-down type of back for the Badgers.
Gordon was the star of the 2012 spring game, rushing 30 times for 159 yards and a score in the contest. The number of carries might be the most significant stat there, since it shows that Wisconsin now has (at least) three guys who can shoulder the load on their own if need be. It probably won't come to that in 2012, but the insurance is there.
Jeffrey Lewis: Junior, 6'2", 212; 33 rushes, 187 yards, 5.7 ypc, 1 TD
Lewis is the closest thing to a "big back" among Wisconsin's tailbacks, and it's really not pleasant for most defensive backs to try to tackle a 6'2", 212-pound ball-carrier.
He's more of a role player than a guy Wisconsin's ever going to want 100 yards out of (unless it's, say, all second-half action against South Dakota or some other cupcake), and he was a non-factor in the spring game, gaining 18 yards on 12 carries. Still, it's nice to have this kind of guy fourth on the depth chart.
Vonte Jackson: Freshman, 6'0", 200
Jackson suffered a torn ACL in his senior season last year, and even though he's a 4-star prospect and his knee should be healed, he's a likely redshirt with such a loaded backfield in front of him.
But who knows? If he blows up in preseason camp and Ball's recovery lags, Bret Bielema has no qualms about using three backs at a time.
So there's obviously a ton of talent here—and that's not counting, y'know, Montee freaking Ball. The ideal situation here is that Ball is back in game form well before the season opener on September 1 against Northern Iowa, because the alternative is unacceptably cruel. But even in that unfortunate scenario, expect Wisconsin to be able to keep mashing fools in the rushing game.
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