Hammock's Group is Eager

With Wisconsin returning its leading rusher and leading scorer a season ago, the Badgers already appeared to be in a good standing heading into 2011. Add freshman Melvin Gordon and redshirt freshman Jeff Lewis in the mix, and running back coach Thomas Hammock has a lot of options at his fingertips.

MADISON - In his four years at Minnesota, Thomas Hammock's running back group finished, in order, 48th, 104th, 111th and 86th in the country in rushing offense, it's best output being the 2007 season where it ran for 161.75 yards per game. By comparison, Wisconsin averaged 215.37 rushing over the last four seasons and never finished lower than 21st.

Needless to say, Hammock has gotten a significant upgrade in returning to the program where he was a graduate assistant in 2003 and 2004. Not only will Hammock coach a player that has shaved 20 pounds off his frame and is more determined than ever to succeed, but a player that was the conference's freshman of the year last season and one that was one of the top running backs in the Midwest.

Finding out more about the strides his position has made during fall camp, Badgernation.com caught up with Hammock on Tuesday.

BN: You made a big emphasis in the spring with all your guys, Montee Ball and James White especially, to not let their lower bodies be susceptible to weak tackle attempts. It seems like they have really taken that to heart and I am curious what you have seen from them in being more award of defenders?

Hammock: I think they really have, as individuals, taken it to heart to get better and push themselves to make that last defender miss. I think there was some times last season when they didn't work hard enough to make that last defender miss. I said to Montee, ‘Look, at the end of the year, you are four yards short of 1,000 yards. That's on you as a back. Take the emphasis on yourself and take the initiative to say this is what I am going to do to get better.' He came out every day in practice and has shown that, so hopefully it comes out on Saturdays.

BN: What was the big thing they had to do to build their body the right way? Was it more physical, mental or a combination of both?

Hammock: I think it was a combination. One, you have to get stronger in the weight room and the other component of it is they have to do it in practice. You have to practice at a higher level of intensity and if you want to make that guy miss, you have to make him miss every day in practice. Do that, and it becomes second nature and it will show up in games.

BN: Montee is 20 pounds lighter but it seems like he is running with just as much power as last year. When you watch the film of him from last year and see him this year, can you see that intensity and power he's carrying?

Hammock: Yeah, I think he is definitely more explosive. We watched the Wisconsin-UNLV game from a year ago and he laughed with how he looked then compared to how he looks now. I said that as a player, you always want to do things to make yourself better, and this was certainly something that is going to help him long term to be a better player for us.

BN: What's the biggest thing you've seen in the growth from James White from spring until fall?

Hammock: I think protection. He is a much better pass protector since the spring and up until now, has done a good job. You don't feel like he is a liability in the passing game. We can put him out there every down and he can run it, he can catch it and he can protect it, and certainly help this team.

BN: Is there a liability right now putting Melvin Gordon on the field?

Hammock: I think as a freshman you are trying to learn everything because everything comes at you so fast. You aren't used to checking coverages, checking blitzes and checking everything we need to check. I think he's grown and he's learning every day. He's going to make some mistakes but at the same time, if you learn from it and grow from it, it will help him in the long run.

BN: When did you start watching film on him? When you started recruiting him in high school?

Hammock: We tried to recruit him. He committed to Iowa pretty quick, but I could just see on tape that he improved a lot from his junior year to his senior year in high school. If you look at that and then here on a day-to-day basis, he continues to improve and get better.

BN: Were you pleasantly surprised of the continuous strides he seemed to make in the first seven to 10 days of practice? It doesn't seem like he's taken too many days back, and that's what you want out of a young player.

Hammock: The hardest thing is the maturity and he is very mature. He has a good understanding and the thing you want to try to avoid with freshmen is that wall. When you practice so many days and your body is soar and tired, you have to really push through and he has done that. He's working really hard to get better.

BN: How much can he really help you guys this year?

Hammock: It's a long season, so you never know. There are many different things that can happen, so you need three or four guys ready to go. Last year at the Iowa game, we were down to one running back. We are trying to get him ready to play and make some contributions.

BN: Where does Jeff Lewis fit into the mix right now?

Hammock: They are all in the same category and competing to play, which is what you want. You don't have an order but if somebody goes down, it's the next man up. We got four guys we are trying to get ready to play and play at a high level where they can go out there and perform to the level we expect. Jeff has done a good job pushing through and taking what he's learned from the spring and improved on it.

BN: It also seems to be very beneficial that you've had Bradie Ewing fully healthy throughout the fall. How key is he going to be in your jumbo packages and in short-yardage situations?

Hammock: It'll make a huge difference. He's a captain, has been through the battles and has won a lot of ball games for us. I just think his leadership shows and helps us work. Obviously, we can put pressure on the defense with the different things he does in this offense.

BN: How hungry is your group to get going and start grinding on people?

Hammock: I am pretty sure they are tired of practicing against the same opponents. I am sure they are looking forward to it. We've got a couple more days to work before the first game and we have to keep pushing to get better. It's a long season and you never stay the same. We are going to try to improve and compete throughout the season so we get better.

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