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Wisconsin spring football preview: Running backs begin new chapter with Thomas Brown

Spring practices start March 5. How will Wisconsin's running backs adjust to new coach Thomas Brown after the departure of Thomas Hammock?


Heading into spring practices, the core of the Wisconsin running back remains intact despite the loss of James White to the NFL. Melvin Gordon returns after a break-out sophomore season (1,609 yards, 12 touchdowns), and Corey Clement will complement him with his hard-nosed, freight-train mentality that helped him gain over 8 yards per carry in 2013.

Barring injury and along with starting fullback Derek Watt heading into his third season (more on that below), this group is one of, if not the most, solidified position on the team.

Some things in life are just constant:  Death, taxes and Wisconsin running backs.

Melvin Gordon RS JR 6-1 207 288 2m328 17 Kenosha, Wis.
Corey Clement SO 5-11 210 67 547 7 Glassboro, N.J.
Jeff Lewis RS SR 6-2 210 40 202 2 Brookfield, Wis.
Austin Ramesh RS FR 6-1 235 N/A N/A N/A Land 'O' Lakes, Wis.
Derek Watt RS JR 6-2 231 15 185 1 Pewaukee, Wis.
Derek Straus RS JR 6-0 235 3 10 1 Waunakee, Wis.
D.J. Spurling RS FR 5-10 225 N/A N/A N/A Slinger, Wis.

Main question: How will the running backs respond to Thomas Brown?

We've seen some coaching transitions run along smoothly, as seen last year with the defense buying into defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's 3-4 scheme. However, there have been some blunders (see: Mike Markuson and the offensive line of early 2012).

Hammock meant a lot to Wisconsin football, both on the field and the recruiting trail. His loss will be felt in some ways, especially with his caliber of coaching and molding the likes of Montee Ball, White and Gordon into bona fide NFL prospects.

Brown, nonetheless, has a great football pedigree (fifth all-time leading rusher in Georgia history and a sixth-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons), and also has an impressive, albeit brief, coaching resume.

He coached Marshall's running backs to the 24th-ranked rushing offense in the nation last season, includingEssray Taliaferro, who gained 1,124 yards and a 5.2 yards-per-carry average. Two other running backs, Steward Butler and Kevin Grooms, rushed for 765 and 503 yards, respectively, making them only one of seven FBS teams to have three running backs gain over 500 yards apiece.

One of the other schools to accomplish this feat? Wisconsin, of course.

There will be probably be some small transition for the players adjusting to a new coach and his style, but based on head coach Gary Andersen's comments in Mike Lucas' article on (which included the confirmation that Gordon, Clement and Watt actually met with Brown before his hire), the two coaches appear to have some similarities that will make the change smoother:

"Everyone basically said the same thing about him -- he's a great person and a great recruiter," Andersen said.

"He pushes the kids hard but he takes care of the kids. That kept coming out about him."

Watt to get a look at the "H-back" tight end spot

As noted in the same article by Lucas (special thanks to B5Q commenter anothersurf for catching this), Watt will get some time playing at the H-Back tight end position this spring. With Jacob Pedersen gone along with Brian Wozniak and Brock DiCicco, Watt will provide another pass-catching option for the offense.

"You'll see something a little different with Derek," Andersen said.

"We know he can play fullback. So we'll move him to the H-tight end and move him around a little, especially early in the spring. It will be great for him. He has proven that he can catch the ball and he can run."

Lucas mentions this could open up time for Derek Straus and Austin Ramesh to receive some reps at fullback, though Ramesh is still officially listed as a running back on the Badgers' roster.