Badger Bits: Catching up with Montee Ball

USA TODAY Sports

The new Denver Bronco has made a solid impression in OTAs. Could he be a major contributor in the Peyton Manning-led offense?

If there's one thing this Biogenesis mess makes me feel, it's an even more pressing desire for football to get back here already. We spent much of yesterday slinging jokes and digs at Gordon Gee around Twitter, and while that's entertaining for an afternoon, we've gotta move on eventually.

One nice escape came in the form of two Montee Ball pieces that provided a welcomed reunion with our long-lost star running back. Yeah, Melvin Gordon and James White (or James White and Melvin Gordon, whichever you prefer) will likely usher us far from the Montee Ball era by, oh, Week 2. But let's not forget what made Ball great: 1) Touchdowns 2) Insanely powerful stiff arms and rushes that just kept on developing, pushing their lifespan 20 yards beyond what you thought was possible and 3) A refreshing humility about it all, a sense of character that really makes you believe it was his work ethic and determination that carried from him the third spot on the running back depth chart to the Heisman Trophy ceremony and eventually, the NFL.

The first such piece was a video interview with SB Nation's Dan Rubenstein, of Solid Verbal fame. Rubenstein chatted with a bunch of offensive skill rookies at last month's NFLPA Rookie Premiere at the Rose Bowl.

Among the cool parts are Ball discussing how he'll learn from Peyton Manning, the all-time great quarterback who also has to be the most difficult signal caller for a rookie running back to learn to play with. Ball acknowledged it'll be a challenge without seeming afraid or overwhelmed, while also touching on the Denver air that can wreak havoc on newly exposed athletes, the comfort in recognizing similarities between Wisconsin's offense and Denver's and the first "crazy" purchase he has his eyes on. Hint: it's really not that crazy, yet another comforting sign.

The second piece I enjoyed was a column from Paul Klee of the Colorado Springs Gazette. According to Klee, Ball's looked like the Broncos best running at OTAs among an admittedly slimmed group (Willis McGahee is absent, rehabbing from knee surgery in Miami; Knowshon Moreno was present, but also working his way back from knee surgery).

Klee also linked up with Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin's Director of Athletics, to get some reflection know that Ball truly is a professional.

"It's easy to say he's the face of the program for the last couple years when he was making a run for the NCAA rushing touchdown record (77 in Ball's career)," Alvarez told me Monday in a phone conversation. "But if you go back before that, he was our third tailback."

"He's a kid - instead of sticking out his lip and pouting - who stays with it until he gets a shot," Alvarez said. "When he gets his opportunities, he jumps on it."

Klee went on to tout Denver's offense as a whole, saying it had the makings of the best since the Super Bowl teams of 1997 and '98 -- even without Manning. The rest of the column also hits on Ball's humility -- he's "sharp," "well-spoken" and "unafraid to strike up a conversation with a stranger," -- and Alvarez shares that Ball was one of Wisconsin's leaders in community-service hours.

This probably sounds awfully sappy to any non-Badgers fans, and that's cool. Allow us one final chance to say bye to Ball -- at least till he's welcomed back to a rousing ovation at Camp Randall (Denver's Week 9 bye unfortunately coincides with Wisconsin's trip to Iowa, so we'll have to look elsewhere on the calendar) -- and we'll close the chapter on that wonderful portion of Wisconsin football history. The next page, anyway, with White and Gordon looks damn promising.

LINKS:

We obviously cater to Big Ten country, but SB Nation's Bill Connelly is up to the SEC in his fantastic series of season previews, and they're worth absolutely worth reading if you're a college football fan. Over the past week, he's hit on South Carolina, Texas A&M and Georgia. He'll have one more today, and you can read all the SEC previews right here.

Yeah, Gordon Gee's retiring. Land-Grant Holy Land has it covered. We limited our reaction to this wonderful Internet creation (click to animate), courtesy of @LSUFreek.

Bielwithit_medium

Oh man. Back to serious stuff: Andy Staples of SI.com details why National Letters of Intent are the worst contracts in American sports.

The Big Ten bloggers at ESPN.com do great work, and their mailbags are usually selections of pretty worthwhile questions and answers. Their latest hits on contracting Division I football, the conference's recent decision to add lacrosse and some always-fun gazing into the long-term crystal ball.

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