Badgers' Melvin Gordon ready to take flight

March, 14, 2013
3/14/13
11:00
AM ET
Melvin Gordon created quite a highlight reel in last December's Big Ten title game, but he hasn't spent much time watching it.

Instead, whenever the the Wisconsin sophomore running back hits the film room, he prefers to watch cutups of Montee Ball and James White.

That's because, as great as Gordon's nine-carry, 216-yard torching of Nebraska was in that Rose Bowl-clinching win, it may be mostly irrelevant going forward. The Badgers used him on a lot of jet sweeps in that game and last year in general, while Ball and White took the majority of the handoffs in the backfield.

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's Melvin Gordon
Jeff Hanisch/US PRESSWIREWisconsin's Melvin Gordon rushed for 621 yards last season -- 216 of which came in the B1G title game.
This spring, Gordon finds himself lined up as a conventional tailback along with White, as Ball moves on toward an NFL career. And Gordon wants to make sure the Badgers don't have any dropoff now that his record-setting predecessor is gone.

"Wisconsin is known for running the ball, and we're working hard to keep it the same way," Gordon told ESPN.com this week. "We want to keep the tradition going. We don't want it to get to us and then we can't hold our own."

Some teams might be scrambling after losing a superstar like Ball, who broke the all-time FBS touchdown record on his way to the 2012 Doak Walker Award. But Wisconsin has White, a senior who complemented Ball the past several seasons, and Gordon, who just might be the next big thing in the Badgers backfield.

Program insiders have raved about Gordon's talent for a few years now. Former coach Bret Bielema told ESPN during last year's spring practice that Gordon "might have the most talent of any kid I've ever signed at that position." Even Ball said Gordon possessed more natural ability than he did.

"I hear that stuff, but I don't pay attention," Gordon said. "Because at the end of the day, people can talk, but you've still got to go out there and make plays."

New head coach Gary Andersen has pledged to preserve the strength of the Wisconsin running game, and the system has shown in the past that multiple backs can thrive at once. But Gordon is still angling for the starting job this spring against the veteran White, who has more than 2,500 career rushing yards.

"He's trying to go out the right way and end on the right note, and I'm trying to start one," Gordon said. "So we just compete. It's the nature of the position and every position. It's a friendly competition, but come game day, whoever is up to make plays has just got to make them. That's how we look at it."

Gordon has worked on improving his explosiveness and lower-body strength this offseason. A taller back than either Ball or White at a listed 6-foot-1, he has to concentrate on staying low.

"I've always played up high since I was younger," he said. "[Running backs] coach [Thomas] Hammock has me doing things like the duck walk as a reminder to stay low and for muscle memory. It's still a little problem for me, but I've got a lot of time to work on that, so I'll be fine."

With Ball around last year, Gordon didn't get a whole lot of opportunities. But he made the most of them, averaging 10 yards per carry on 62 rushing attempts with his long-striding form. That included 112 rushing yards against UTEP and 96 against Indiana despite receiving just eight carries in each of those games. But he was still somewhat of an unknown commodity until he started flying around the edges, breaking ankles and pushing around would-be tacklers against Nebraska in Indianapolis (you can see some of those highlights here).

It sure seemed like the start of something special.

"That gave me more confidence," he said. "When you first get out there, you start thinking, 'I don't want to fumble, I don't want to mess up this play.' After a while, you don't think about that. You're just out there trying to make plays."

Odds are Gordon will be doing a lot of that in 2013.

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