Mid-Spring Thoughts: Running Backs

Our series of Mid-Spring analysis continues with a look at the Badger running backs.

It's hard to give a true read on Anthony Davis, because of the fact he's being held back from contact this spring in an effort to keep the star tailback healthy. Davis is pretty indifferent about the coaches' decision to keep him out of contact. He feels like the inside running drills give him enough of a taste of the hitting to stay fresh, but he understands why the staff wants to protect the nation's leading rusher over the last two seasons combined (3,021 yards). In inside running drills, Davis looks as sharp as ever, making the tough cuts and smart reads that are expected from him, while demonstrating bursts of speed to get through holes. Davis is only getting better, and on a team loaded with talent, Davis is perhaps Wisconsin's best player.

- There have been a lot of questions about Dwayne Smith, and his role in this offense. In the majority of the nation's Division I football programs, Smith would be the starting tailback. His contributions last season might have been overlooked, in that a true freshman came in and performed admirably and consistently at a very tough position to do so. Smith will be used in the same backfield as Davis on many occasions, giving the Badgers a two-headed monster that defensive coordinators are going to have a lot of sleepless nights preparing for. Smith's conditioning is second-to-none in the Badger program (I hope he's not planning on competing against me in this weekend's Mr. Wisconsin) and his intelligence is well-documented.

- At the same time, it's going to be awfully difficult to keep Booker Stanley off the field. Whenever somebody comes to a UW practice that isn't familiar with the team, the question is almost always asked, "Who is No. 32?" The reporter from Sports Illustrated asked me that yesterday, wondering about the redshirt freshman who always sticks out because of his combination of speed, power and explosiveness. Stanley will likely be a great back someday. He will be on the field this season in some capacity, but with Davis and Smith ahead of him, it might take time for him to really make a huge splash in the program.

- Phillip Fuller is another back that could make an impact down the road. Whether he has fully recovered from his horrible injury suffered nearly two years ago, only he knows. But he certainly has shown some promise during spring practice. He is not at the level of Davis, Smith and Stanley, but it would be unfair to expect that out of him at this point. With a year of seasoning in the Badger program, going through the grind of fall camp and the week-to-week preparation throughout his freshman season, he could develop into a solid option in the backfield.

- Jerone Pettus could once again be a victim of numbers this season. Unfortunately, in the very limited opportunities Pettus had last season, he did not do anything to help his cause. His job as a kick returner will probably not be there this fall, with more explosive options available to Special Teams Coach Brian Murphy. But Pettus continues to work hard, and hopefully he will have some opportunities to prove himself once again. He has worked as hard as anyone in the program to get better. But the talent ahead of him on the depth chart might be too much to overcome.

- Aaron Niay has been a great contributor to the scout team, and he continues to give the defense a good look every practice. While Davis sits out the contact, Niay takes the brunt of the No. 1 defense's punishment in live hitting situations. He is one of those hard-working walk-ons that help everyone get better on a daily basis.

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