Fall Camp Guide: running backs

Wisconsin has nearly its entire corps of running backs returning in 2004

Starters returning (2) – tailback Anthony Davis, 5-8, 194, Sr. (career stats – 32 starts, 34 total games played, 3,703 yards rushing, 31 rushing touchdowns); fullback Matt Bernstein 6-2, 270, Jr. (16-27-186-3).

More key returnees – tailback Booker Stanley, 5-10, 206, So. (0-12-523-5) ; tailback Dwayne Smith 5-11, 225, Jr. (6-27-1,409, 15).

Newcomers – freshmen tailback/fullback Chris Pressley, 6-1, 262; tailback Jamil Walker, 6-2, 205; fullback Bill Rentmeester, 6-0, 240.

Also in the mix – fullback: Greg Root, 6-2, 262, Jr.; Josh Balts, 6-1, 238, Fr. (redshirted 2003).

Key departures – none

Additional departuresJerone Pettus, Phillip Fuller

Top marks in 2003 Rushing: yards - Smith, 857; attempts – Smith, 165; touchdowns – Smith, 9; per carry average – Davis, 5.9; per game average – Davis, 85.2

Receiving: yards – Smith, 121; receptions – Smith, 9; touchdowns – none.

Reasons to be excited – There are a plethora. Wisconsin averaged 177 yards rushing per game last season, despite missing Davis for the bulk of the season. "A.D." is back, healthy and poised for a big year. He ran for more than 3,000 yards in his first two seasons and for 414 in his first two games last season before the injury bug nipped him early in game No. 3. There is quality depth behind him with Stanley and Smith and incoming freshmen Pressley and Walker. Fullback Matt Bernstein is, like Davis, one of the best in the nation at his position.

Cause for trepidation – Question marks swirl regarding Smith, who earned honorable mention All-Big Ten acclaim last year. He faces trial for second-degree sexual assault after being charged with the crime in February. He served a five-practice suspension during spring workouts in March and is cleared to take part when fall camp begins Aug. 11. But how long he will be eligible will not be determined until his case is resolved, likely in early September.

There is questionable depth at fullback, where either Pressley or Rentmeester will likely be pushed into service behind Bernstein.

Camp questions – The depth is more or less set at tailback. Fullback is another story, with four players competing for open spots behind Bernstein….The Badgers spent significant time throwing to their backs out of the backfield last fall, only to complete all of 23 passes to the position last year. How much Wisconsin develops this aspect of its passing game will be closely watched, especially with a young quarterback prepping for his first season as the starter.

Player on the rise – Bernstein. Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez called him the best fullback he has coached at last week's Big Ten media conference. A ferocious blocker, adept short yardage runner and solid pass receiver, Bernstein brings a complete package to the table. He will begin to receive the respect he deserves outside of Wisconsin this season.

Player on the spot – Greg Root. The Badgers would like to have more security behind their bruising starting fullback. Root has been No. 2 for quite a while now and will need a strong fall camp to hold off the freshmen he is competing with.

Forecast – Wisconsin has an All-Big Ten backfield in Davis and Bernstein. Smith, if available, and Stanley give the Badgers as much depth as anyone. With an experienced line helping lead the way, the Badgers running game should be among the top three in the conference and possibly among the best in the nation.

BadgerNation.com projected depth chart

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