Death, taxes and the run game. Three things all Wisconsin fans can be sure of at all times year in and year out. This year will be no different.
Wisconsin, despite losing its top two running backs from last season to the NFL, is primed for a huge year on the ground. And the two players leading the way competing and sharing first team reps most consistently, are sophomore Bradrick Shaw and senior Chris James.
“I think they’re complimentary. We have Bradrick Shaw who is a bigger back, is a long strider. Then we have Chris James, next guy in that’s short, quick and has more speed and quickness to the edge. He can make people miss,” running back coach John Settle said.
Last season, Shaw was given opportunities in big spots and he stepped up in a big way. In 2016, he rushed for 457 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry and scored five touchdowns in just 88 touches.
James transferred from Pittsburgh and has never had an in-game snap for the Badgers after sitting out last season. Coming into spring practices, he was kind of a mystery. Still, without a doubt, James has showed his worth as a dynamic back who could be compared to a James White type of player. He’s not overwhelming in the run game or receiving game, but very good at both.
It’s that dynamic attribute that gives James the edge over Shaw as the best running back on the Badgers.
Other than James and Shaw, the Badgers are still stacked with depth. Including one player that Settle believes is the true Dare Ogunbowale replacement.
“We have Taiwan [Deal], who is another bigger back and does a great job of picking the knees up. More of an erect runner. We have Rashid Ibrahim, who is probably the guy we are kind of looking to replace Dare. More of a pass catcher out of the backfield, quick hands, smart, able to make all the adjustments in pass protection,” Settle said. “Then we have the freshman, Jonathan Taylor who is fast. When he does it right, it sure looks pretty.”
Shaw and James may be competing for the top spot, but there is a security blanket of depth behind them ready to take snaps.
The past couple of years have been down years for the Badgers running game, comparatively to the previous decade of record setting performances. Both Shaw and James will be looking to build back towards the legacy that the likes of Dayne, Clay, Ball and Gordon have left behind.