Wisconsin suddenly has a surplus of running backs coaches.
If there is a silver lining in the Badgers' sudden lack of depth at tailback it is that Dwayne Smith (career-ending heart condition) and Anthony Davis (out at least three weeks with an eye injury) are highly qualified tutors for true freshmen Chris Pressley and Jamil Walker, who have been thrust into the limelight as two of Wisconsin's three healthy tailbacks.
Walker and Pressley will back up sophomore Booker Stanley Saturday when the Badgers take on UNLV in a rematch of a game the Rebels won 23-5 last season.
"They are learning very fast," Stanley said. "It's an urgency now that they need to. So, we are on them all the time. I think the coaches and older players (have) been on them to jump-start that learning process and get them going right away."
The process started in fall camp. With Smith out, Pressley and Walker took consistent reps with the second and, at times, first-team offense, all the while learning from the veteran tailbacks.
The results were positive. Before the extent of Smith's condition was fully understood and well before Davis was injured, the team was seriously contemplating using both Walker and Pressley immediately.
"I expected to come in and basically learn the system, but camp went really well for us," Walker said. "I learned a lot from the older guys. They kind of took me and Pressley under their wings and taught us everything that they knew. Me and Pressley tried to catch on as fast we could and it just happened to work out."
Smith and Davis have been assisting the youngsters in every way imaginable this week, helping them understanding blitz protection schemes, the ‘landmarks' they have to find in the running game and the proper running technique.
"We were playing high school ball last year," Pressley said. "This is a big level. Guys here are hitting harder, moving faster. We've got to, in practice, watch more film, get to know the game better. Other freshmen can go home and just hang out…As exhausting as it might be, we just have to grow up a little bit and be mature about it."
Walker did not play last Saturday in Wisconsin's season opener against Central Florida due to a viral infection. Pressley played, primarily in mop-up duty, and ran eight times for 22 yards. He also fumbled twice.
Ball protection has been a focus for Pressley since his first practice. The 6-foot, 265-pound tailback said he did not pay attention to how he carried the ball in high school and has had to focus on keeping the ball "high and tight" to his body.
"I was real anxious. It was my first time, I just really wanted to just let loose," Pressley said of Saturday's fumbles. "I was real nervous and I wasn't focusing on ball security… I was just focusing on moving around.
"I'm disappointed I let my team down."
Pressley's teammates, though, are likely reassured by his work ethic. After practice Wednesday, he remained on the field with Davis, working on fundamentals.
"We just talked for 15 minutes after practice so he could help me out, tell me what I'm doing wrong and get me where I need to be."
Either Pressley or Walker (6-2, 215) could serve as Stanley's primary backup Saturday.
"He is one of my closest friends on the field," Pressley said of Walker. "We give positive energy to each other. We are competitors but everything's positive."
"I think they're ready to go," Stanley said. "They are young and inexperienced but this is going to be a perfect time for them to get experience."
Badgers looking toward freshmen duo
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