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|Can P.J. Hill eclipse the 1,212 rushing yards he racked up last season?|
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
P.J. Hill doesn't know who started the tradition at Wisconsin, but he'd like to find out.
It could have been Brian Calhoun, the nation's fourth-leading rusher in 2005. Or maybe it was Anthony Davis, who eclipsed 1,400 rushing yards in both 2001 and 2002. Perhaps it traces all the way back to Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne, the most decorated running back in team history.
At the end of each practice, Hill and the other Badgers running backs get together and chant, "Dog pound, woo!" before heading to the locker room.
"I don't know how long it's been here," Hill said, "but I think it's pretty good. Dogs are a tough group, very tough, and that's what we want to be, as tough as a dog pound."
The Badgers certainly look the part.
Hill, a 236-pound junior, headlines the group after leading the team in rushing the last two seasons. The Badgers also bring back capable reserve Zach Brown, who started the final four games as a true freshman last season, racking up 450 rushing yards and four touchdowns in that span. And Wisconsin fans finally get a look at John Clay, a 6-foot-2, 237-pound redshirt freshman who many consider the back of the future.
A fourth running back, Lance Smith, was expected to contribute as well this season before being dismissed from the team Aug. 4. Despite Smith's loss, Wisconsin will rival Ohio State for the Big Ten's deepest and best rushing attack this fall.
"When we have the ball in our hands, we do a lot," Hill said. "Very talented, different types of skill. That's what I like about this group. We have nothing against each other. It's like a brotherhood."
The Badgers backs also benefit from a system designed to feature them. The trendy spread offense hasn't reached Madison, and Wisconsin runs a scheme designed to punish and wear down defenses with big backs and bigger offensive linemen.
"Everybody else is running the spread," Brown said, "and for us to do something different, it makes other defensive coordinators put more work in to try and stop it. This type of offense is smash-mouth football, but to be unique is great. I love it."
Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst acknowledged that Smith, who rushed for 429 yards last year in only eight games, had the most distinct skill set of the runners. Though the Badgers might miss having a change-up back, they benefit from having experience with both Hill and Brown.
Hill finished with 1,212 rushing yards last season but took some heat from some fans for his size and not staying healthy. He made it through his first offseason program without any injury issues and looks to become the fifth Badgers running back since 1946 to lead the team in rushing in three consecutive seasons.
"We certainly know what Zach is and P.J. is, but also, it's a new year for them," Chryst said. "How have they changed?"
Brown maintains he and the other backs aren't concerned about how carries will be divided this fall. Opposing defenses will have to worry about all of the backs.
"It's always going to be a change of pace because it's fresh legs," Brown said. "They're not going to know what to expect."