Montee Ball and James White together in the same backfield? It could happen

Wisconsin worked out of a set that featured both James White and Montee Ball in the backfield in Tuesday's practice.

Wisconsin's offense projects to be very strong once again in 2012. But for the moment, it's a bit incomplete.

With Danny O'Brien still in school at Maryland, Jon Budmayr ruled out of spring camp and Curt Phillips limited to non-contact drills, youngsters Joe Brennan and Joel Stave are the only available quarterbacks. The Badgers are also missing several offensive linemen and top passing game playmakers Jared Abbrederis, who, according to Bret Bielema, will likely miss the entirety of spring camp with a foot injury, and Jacob Pedersen, who will be limited with a groin injury.

The lone offensive group that is healthy and whole is the running backs, and the Badgers' offensive coaches took full advantage during Tuesday's practice, the first of the spring open to the media. Wisconsin ran several plays with two running backs in the backfield, most prominently featuring the duo of Montee Ball and James White.

Offensive coordinator Matt Canada downplayed the formation's significance, saying it "just happened to be what [the Badgers] worked on today," but both he and Bielema stressed the importance of utilizing Wisconsin's playmaking backs however they can.

"We put in a couple new wrinkles like you do every day in spring and I thought our kids did a good job," Canada said. "We’ve got a lot of great players. The ultimate goal is to score as many points as you can, so we’re going to put our best players in position to make plays."

It's too early to guess as to whether or not the Badgers will feature the duo when the fall roles around, but it was certainly interesting to see Ball, who usually runs between the tackles, line up at fullback or motion outside to line up like a wide receiver.

Wisconsin's short-handedness on offense this spring has also given new wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni a chance to work with his group of young receivers. With Nick Toon headed to the NFL and Abbrederis on the mend, Azzanni is left with Jeff Duckworth and a bunch of young pass-catchers with little in-game experience.

But that's okay with him.

"Honestly, I like that none of them have played because I can kind of start from the ground up. Now it’s frustrating at times, but I think having a group that has really never played before is good for me as a new coach to kind of come in and start from square one," Azzanni said. "That’s kind of what I like about them. And they’re hungry and they’re eager and they’re willing. They’re swimming right now, but we’ll get there."

Azzanni said Duckworth, who most Badger fans remember for his 36-yard catch that set up the game-clinching touchdown against Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship, needs to forget about his past heroics and elevate his game from "good" to "great." Azzanni also identified sophomores Isaiah Williams and Kenzel Doe as having impressed him thus far.

Even the injured Abbrederis, who had hoped to play this spring before being advised this week to sit out, has a new role to fill this spring: the unit's leader. Azzanni said Abbrederis has already been a big help by continuing to coach players after they come off the practice field.

"I don’t need Tim Tebow in my group, a guy that just takes the whole group by the horns," Azzanni said. "I need a bunch of guys to help each other and coach each other. [Abbrederis is] automatically a leader because of the things that he’s done, so guys automatically gravitate to him anyway."

Notes

  • Other injury updates: DB Devin Gaulden (leg) will likely miss the rest of camp; WR Manasseh Garner (groin) had surgery and could return "towards the end" of spring camp, according to Bielema; QB Jon Budmayr has been ruled out of spring camp, but the team will know if he'll be available for fall within the next two months. If he does sit out another year, Budmayr would likely seek a sixth year of eligibility in 2014, Bielema said.
  • According to Bielema, Danny O'Brien will make another trip to Madison this weekend with his father. He came with his mother and stepfather on his official visit.
  • Bielema and Canada both said the other quarterbacks have reacted positively to the news of O'Brien's transfer. Bielema mentioned Jon Budmayr went as far as to ask Bielema for O'Brien's number so he could welcome him to the team.
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