Madison — Among Montee Ball’s many strengths was his ability to handle an onerous workload.
During his final two seasons at Wisconsin, Ball handled 63.1% of the runs by the running backs (663 of 1,051).
The résumés of UW’s top two tailbacks, James White and Melvin Gordon, and the emergence of freshman Corey Clement point to a more even distribution of carries in 2013.
“The most important thing to me and the easiest motivation for a running back is to get carries,” running backs coach Thomas Hammock said. “So if somebody feels like they’re not 100% this week then I’ll say I’m not 100% you’re going to get all those carries.
“You’ve got two guys, actually three guys, that are anxious to prove themselves. They want to get on the big stage and show what they’re all about. …
“So every week the best guy will play. The guy that gives us the best opportunity to win deserves those carries.”
White, expected to start the opener at 11 a.m. Saturday against visiting UMass, enters his senior season with 422 carries in 39 games at UW. His average of 6.4 yards per carry is the best in program history.
He is averaging only 10.8 carries per game, however. His high mark is 23 carries as a freshman in 2010 at Michigan. White has 12 games of 15 or more carries.
Gordon has played in 17 games at UW and has 82 carries, or 4.8 per game. Aside from the 2012 spring game, when he carried 30 times for 159 yards, Gordon’s high mark for carries is 10, set last season against Minnesota.
Although the 5-foot-11, 210-pound Clement has yet to play a college game, he impressed Hammock before the players were allowed to practice in full pads in camp.
“People say that you’ve got to see the pads on,” Hammock said. “Well to me your mind-set is either you’re going to attack it or you’re not.
“I think he came from Day 1 attacking … He might have had one day I thought he was going to hit a wall and he fought right through it.
“He is just a strong kid mentally and physically. Wish you could get more guys like him.”
What appears to intrigue Hammock is that White, Gordon and Clement are not cut from the same mold.
In short, their styles are complementary.
White relies on quickness and hard cuts, either inside the tackles or in the open field.
“I think he is a well-rounded back,” head coach Gary Andersen said. “He is tough. He wants to stick his nose in there and block when he needs to.
“We’re expecting him to have a great year and he has a complement of two other backs with him. That should help take a little bit of the pressure off him.”
Gordon is a long strider who can outrun many defenders. Ask the Nebraska defenders about Gordon, who rushed for 216 yards and a touchdown in just nine carries against the Cornhuskers in the Big Ten title game.
“With Melvin you’ve got an explosive player,” Hammock said. “You blink your eye and it may be 40 yards later.”
Clement possesses a punishing running style that is closer to Ball’s.
“I think Corey brings an element of physicality,” Hammock said. “That is always your concern when you lose a guy like Montee. What is going to be that physical element that in the fourth quarter and you’re trying to get that 1 or 2 yards?
“As a coach you spend a lot of time thinking about those situations. Hopefully we can do well in those situations.”
White and Gordon, who never appeared to harbor bitterness over Ball’s success, sound open to seeing the most productive runner lead the way in 2013.
“I think if we share the ball and keep guys fresh we can do our thing,” Gordon said. “But if a guy is hot and he needs to get the carries to keep the team on top, then that’s what it is.”
White, the Big Ten freshman of the year in 2010 when he rushed for 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns, could fill that role in any game.
Then again, Gordon or Clement appear capable of doing the same.
“It all goes with the flow of the game and who is hot,” White said. “Coach pretty much said that. We’re going to be rotating and whoever is hot is going to stay in the game.”
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