RBs Gordon, Clement won’t be tackled in spring camp
One can safely assume Badgers star Melvin Gordon (left) is a fan of coach Gary Andersen's mandate that no one shall tackle the decorated tailback -- or talented teammate Corey Clement -- during drills this spring.
MADISON, Wis. — If you’re looking for some great revelation from the first spring football practice of Wisconsin’s season, well, you’ll have to keep looking.
Contrary to what some might have hoped, a quarterback pecking order was not even considered on Wednesday — Joel Stave and Bart Houston didn’t finish practice because of class obligations. The No. 1 center was true freshman and early enrollee Michael Deiter, in part because Dan Voltz and Dallas Lewallen are recuperating from injuries.
In fact, Wednesday’s practice featured 45 minutes of skeleton work and few starters involved in play drills anywhere.
Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen plans to ratchet up the competition across the board over the next 14 practices, of course. But what we’ve learned thus far has more to do with won’t happen than what will.
For instance, Andersen has no interest in Wisconsin’s top two running backs, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement, risking a chance for injury this spring. As a result, Andersen said neither player would be tackled at all.
"In spring, they may get on the ground a couple times, but it’s not because we’re trying to tackle them," Andersen said. "We’re going to be very creative again in those areas. I don’t feel like either one of those backs need to be tackled in spring ball to prove themselves. They’ll be in drills. They’ll get thudded up pretty heavy and all that that comes with it, but not a true tackle. How we handle that for the rest of spring, we’ll have to see."
Gordon, a junior-to-be, could very well be an early Heisman Trophy candidate next season after rushing for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns a year ago. Clement, a sophomore-to-be, rushed for 547 yards and seven touchdowns in his first season. The duo will handle the bulk of Wisconsin’s carries next season and are expected to be one of the top tandems in the country.
Andersen’s decision for both players to avoid being tackled creates an interesting scenario on the depth chart. With Vonte Jackson recently moving from running back to safety, there are only two other tailbacks on the current roster: Jeff Lewis and Austin Ramesh. Fullbacks Derek Straus and D.J. Spurling could see carries, too. Lewis is the only one of those players to have carried the ball in college, with 40 rushes for 202 yards and two touchdowns.
One solution during spring likely will be an increased role for fullback Derek Watt to garner carries. Watt, a junior-to-be, has carried three times for 13 yards in his career, but Andersen expects him to play occasionally at H-back next season.
"He’s our fullback," Andersen said. "Let’s make no mistake about it. But Derek does not need to block power ‘O’ 40 times in the spring. Austin Ramesh does. . . . Derek needs reps being an H tight end and a mover, and I think he’ll handle that. We’re going to ask him to do that next year because he is a good receiver. He’s more than just a fullback. He’s a very athletic fullback that can do things for you in the pass game and as a mover as an H."
Other developments from Wednesday’s practice:
– Andersen said Stave would be withheld from full activities for the first six spring practices as a precautionary measure. Stave sustained a right shoulder injury during Wisconsin’s Capital One Bowl loss against South Carolina on Jan. 1.
"In team situations, he’ll be limited through spring break," Andersen said. "And then we’ll see if we can get him full speed. It’s a precautionary deal. We just don’t want him throwing a few balls down the field and get too competitive, so we’re kind of putting the brakes on him. If we were going to play tomorrow, he would play."
– Linebackers Garrett Dooley and Alec James have been moved to defensive end to create more depth up front. Both players redshirted last season as true freshmen.
"Right now, I think that’s the best spot for those kids without question," Andersen said. "They can get in there and play. They’re going to get a little bit bigger as they go through time. Speed’s part of it. We want to be a fast defense, and I think those kids are going to grow into that position and be very talented players."
– Andersen continued to tinker with the offensive line to ensure Wisconsin could get through spring practice. In addition to Voltz and Lewallen being out, right guard Kyle Costigan is being limited because of his knees, while right tackle Rob Havenstein and left tackle Tyler Marz have little to prove.
Walk-on tight end Alex Walker was moved to tackle, while walk-on defensive end Logan Schmidt moved to the other side of the ball to play guard.
Andersen also said highly regarded freshman Jaden Gault would not participate in spring practices. Gault, a 6-foot-6, 310-pounder from Cottage Grove, Wis., underwent knee surgery but will be ready for the fall.
"It’s not a serious injury," Andersen said. "It’s just something where we’re going to be very slow with him as we come through spring and he’ll continue to rehab and he’ll be with us in the fall and ready to go. So he’s attending class and rehabbing."