Spring Position Preview: Running Backs

With three experienced running backs, plus a talented freshman waiting in the wings, and a couple of veteran fullbacks, Wisconsin's running game looks to be the strength of the offense in 2008.

Starters returning: Senior Chris Pressley, junior P.J. Hill and sophomore Zach Brown

Other key returnees: Senior Bill Rentmeester, junior Lance Smith and freshman John Clay

Starters departed: None

Injured Players: None

2008 position coach: John Settle

Spring storylines:

How good is life right now if you are running back coach John Settle? Losing no players to graduation or injuries and have an overwhelming depth at both back position, Settle has plenty of options in which to utilize his talented backfield this spring and the upcoming season.

Settle could go with the strength of P.J. Hill

One of just three players (Ron Dayne and Anthony Davis) in school history to have rushed for 1,000 yards in each of their first two seasons, Hill (5-foot-11, 228 pounds) already ranks ninth on school's career rushing yardage list with 2,805 yards and fifth on UW career rushing TDs list with 29 scores. Not bad for a player that has been injury plagued throughout his Wisconsin career.

After breaking his foot and redshirting his first year on campus, a neck injury suffered midway through his freshman year limited his effectiveness for the remainder of the season. Last year, Hill suffered a severe bruise on the same foot he broke two years prior. The result was Hill playing only one series in the next three games but rebounding to run for 132 yards in the Outback Bowl.

Finally healthy and being able to participate in winter conditioning and now spring workouts, Hill looks as healthy as he has been his entire career.

Settle could go with the speed of Lance Smith

A challenging year finally put behind him, Lance Smith (5-foot-10, 200 pounds) looks to build on what he was able to accomplish last season. Playing in eight games (missed all five road games due to university-imposed suspension), Smith averaged 6.0 yards per carry last season, garnering his 436 yards by sheer speed instead of brute strength.

Smith's career-long 56 yards run against The Citadel and 28-yard run against Michigan State both set up the go-ahead score and both were executed on runs by Smith to the outside, simply out running any defender in his path.

Sliming down to an even 200 pounds, Smith has been even quicker through the first couple weeks of spring practice and has allowed the Badger coaching staff to try Smith at the wide receiver position; a move the Badgers hope will thin out the talented backfield and allow Smith's natural versatility to be showcased in an inexperienced wide receiver unit.

Settle could go with the youth in Zach Brown

With P.J. Hill on the sidelines and Lance Smith being unable to travel, somebody had to start against No.1 Ohio State in Columbus and against border-rival Minnesota in Minneapolis. Luckily, that man turned out to be Zach Brown.

Playing in 12 of 13 games but starting the last four games, Brown (5-foot-11, 212 pounds) had only 113 yards and one touchdown in his first nine games of his freshman season until he grabbed 60 yards at Ohio State (a number Bielema said could easily have been over 100), 108 yards against Michigan and a career-high 250 yards and two TDs on just 29 carries in win at Minnesota (the fourth-most ever for a UW freshman and 10th-most overall in school history).

Putting on roughly 15 pounds, Brown has been running with the first and second teams in the spring and seems to have a better grasp of the speed of the game and looks to be ahead of the learning curve.

Or Settle could go with the future in John Clay

The nation's 12th-best running back in 2007 and a four-star running back by Scout media, Clay brings as much hype into the Wisconsin backfield as any other running back in recent memory. Although it took awhile for him to get on the field (issues with the NCAA Clearinghouse and a minor fall camp injury), Clay stated that he learned the offense and put on 10 pounds of muscle to boot.

Clay still has the shiftiness to make defenders miss but now as the physical build at 6-foot-2, 231 pounds to absorb the hits and keep slugging his way down field.

Throughout the weeks of camp, nobody has been more impressive on offense running, catching or throwing the ball than the redshirt freshman from Racine.

While most of the attention has been thrust on the four running backs, senior fullback Chris Pressley looks to be in the best shape of his career.

Bulking up his strength by working with the offensive linemen during winter conditioning, Pressley (6-foot-1, 259 pounds) now feels like he can block anybody in his path.

Playing in all 13 games last season after one year removed from a serious leg injury, Pressley lived up to his reputation as being a tremendous run blocker, doing more than his fair share in the Wisconsin backfield. As a result, Pressley got to carry the rock a couple times, as well. Pressley carried eight times for 56 yards, including notching a career-high five carries for 31 yards and his first career TD in win over Northern Illinois and his first career receiving touchdown at Ohio State.

Backing up Pressley will be another veteran fullback in senior Bill Rentmeester. Rentmeester (6-foot-1, 248 pounds) saw action at fullback in 12 games and on special teams in all 13 games, including scoring his first career rushing TD in win at Minnesota.

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