Spring football wrap: running backs

Part six of BadgerNation.com's position-by-position look at who thrived and what questions remain.

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News and notes – Anthony Davis took part in workouts throughout spring but was held out of full contact scrimmages….Dwayne Smith was suspended for the first five practices of spring by a university appeals committee. Smith was initially suspended indefinitely after he was arrested and later charged with being party to the crime of second-degree sexual assault. After returning to the practice field, he shared time with the first and second offenses….fullback Matt Bernstein was held out of the first few spring practices due to an injury. 

 

Spring MVP – Anthony Davis was his usual lightning-quick self. In addition to making his normally startling plays running the ball, he improved his pass-catching skills. Most importantly, Davis remained healthy, never favoring the ankles that hampered him last season.

 

Springing ahead – Dwayne Smith played well in an abbreviated spring. Always a powerful runner, he was more elusive this spring. He appeared faster on a straight line and quicker with his cuts. Smith also looked very comfortable as a pass receiver and made a number of stellar plays once he got into the open field.

 

Booker Stanley continued to develop as a dependable backup, taking advantage of the extra reps he received due to Smith's legal troubles and Davis not taking part in full contact activity.

 

Despite missing time due to injury, Matt Bernstein had a solid spring. He looked a little quicker and was more fluid as a pass receiver.

 

Stuck in the depth – Phillip Fuller again performed well in practice, which seems like it will be the story of his career. Fuller received a ton of work with the second team this spring and capped his solid play with a 15-carry, 91-yard performance in the spring game. However, he did not make up any ground on Smith or Stanley for reserve spots and is unlikely to threaten for playing time in the fall. Smith's future with the team is in serious doubt pending the outcome of his legal proceedings. But even if Smith is booted off the team, it appears that only a rash of injuries will provide Fuller with playing time in the fall. Fuller has done quite a bit right – he plays hard, he is fundamentally sound and he makes plays in practice with regularity. But his size and athleticism do not approach that of the top three backs.

 

Expanded roles? – Once again, the Badgers flirted with creative ways to work the running backs into the passing game. Various screens, swings and flairs were worked on with regularity. Wisconsin also spent time on a formation where the backs shifted to flanker positions. Similar experimenting took place last fall but to little avail. Still, it appears to be a weapon that could develop. Smith and Bernstein in particular could offer a change of pace as receivers out of the backfield.

 

Bernstein ran the ball four times in the spring game and actually averaged more yards per carry than Smith or Stanley (4.5 to 3.38 and 4.0, respectively). It remains to be seen consistently in games, but Bernstein took on a larger role offensively in the spring.

 

Competitions to watch – The No. 2 fullback spot is wide open. Greg Root can deliver a blow but has not played well enough to take command of the backup spot. Josh Balts could be used in an emergency but was unspectacular. Two incoming freshmen – Chris Pressley and Billy Rentmeester, could conceivably win the right to backup Bernstein this fall.

 

Pressley could also end up at tailback. If Smith is convicted, Pressley would join Fuller and another freshman, Jamil Walker, in competition for the third tailback spot.

Spring football wrap

Part 1 - wide receivers

Part 2 - defensive ends

Part 3 - offensive linemen

Part 4 - special teams

Part 5 - quarterbacks


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