The rest of his true freshman season, however, was an exercise in frustration. Walker ran five times for zero yards at Arizona, and three times for 13 yards against Penn State. In the latter game, he tore the labrum in his shoulder and carried the ball in just one more game in 2004, running twice for one yard against Minnesota.
Walker eventually underwent surgery to repair his shoulder and was held out of spring practices as a result. The lack of practice time caused him to drop on the depth chart — he was listed as the No. 4 tailback on the official depth prior to this season.
Before practice began Wednesday, Walker was asked what he needed to show the Badgers' coaches this fall in order to get back on the field.
"Probably that I'm more comfortable; like I can take on a role as a player, take on more responsibility," Walker said. "Just show them that I can run in between the (tackles), outside the tackle."
Through four practices in UW's training camp, Walker has been playing well. He has been running with a good deal of power on his inside runs, and he has been more assertive when finishing runs. His speed remains impressive.
"I've been very pleased with the progress that Jamil has shown and his improvement and how he's run inside and his vision is better," head coach Barry Alvarez said following Saturday's practice. "He's done some good things the first couple of days."
Walker said he received clearance to work out without restrictions around the time he returned to campus June 15 to start summer conditioning.
"Last year was a totally different story because… it was just getting your feet wet, it wasn't really much," Walker said.
The Badgers would very much like to see Walker develop into a trustworthy tailback; someone who can give Calhoun and Stanley a breather. So far, Walker has not shown any signs that his shoulder is affecting his play.
"He jumped right in," Alvarez said. "Obviously he'd gotten some mental reps and mentally was prepared. He didn't lose the spring totally. Just being around him and watching film and all that, obviously he's taken advantage of that. But he's a different player right now than he was a year ago."