After Saturday's scrimmage, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema described Zach Brown as an "angry back."
The comment surprised Brown.
"That was an interesting quote," Brown told me this week. "I've never been referred to as an angry back. I think he's just saying I came out with high intensity, a high motor and just playing hard every play."
It was easy to forget about Brown in 2010 as Wisconsin's rushing attack surged behind the triumvirate of John Clay, James White and Montee Ball. Brown, who started the final four games of his true freshman season way back in 2007, opted to redshirt last fall so he could focus on his academics and get his knee tendonitis under control.
He's back on the field this spring, and though Wisconsin returns two potential All-Big Ten backs in Ball and White, the fifth-year senior from Royal Palm, Fla., isn't fading into the backdrop. Brown stood out in last week's scrimmage and hopes to take a chunk of the carries this fall.
"Going into the spring knowing you’re going to get time in the fall, you know you’ve got to compete and take these reps seriously," he said. "I'm feeling good. I haven't felt this good in a while."
It was a different story in preseason camp, as Brown got lost in a crowded group of backs.
"I had a real bad case of tendonitis, and I wasn't competing how I wanted to," he recalled. "There were four of us going in and it was high intensity, and I felt like I couldn't reach the [same] intensity as the other backs. It was just hard."
It didn't get much easier for Brown as he watched games from the sideline. He saw Wisconsin surge to the Rose Bowl on the strength of its run game.
But as White showed in August and Ball showed in October and November, Wisconsin's competition at running back never stops. If you elevate your game, you'll get on the field.
Former Badgers running backs coach John Settle preached that approach, and his successor Thomas Hammock hasn't changed it.
"Coach Hammock brought that mentality in, like, 'What have you done for me lately?'" said Brown, who added some mass during the winter and checks in at 219 pounds this spring. "So there's no more thinking about what you did last year."
That's good news for Brown, who had no statistics from 2010 but rushed for 1,152 yards and 11 touchdowns from 2007-09.
"I just want to say when it's all said and done," Brown said, "that my last year, I was the best back I could be."
He's well on his way.