UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: Details matter for Badgers' backfield

FB_110907_Ball_Montee.jpegTwo days before the UNLV opener, UW running backs coach Thomas Hammock reminded tailback Montee Ball to take the shortest distance between two points after catching the football.

"You're going to get in this situation,'' Hammock advised Ball who had 16 catches last season, "and when you do, just run straight. Don't look to your left. Don't look to your right.''

Why was such a reminder necessary? "There were times last year,'' Hammock said, "where Montee would start looking for another defender instead of just running.''

Last Thursday night, Ball found himself in the situation that Hammock foreshadowed. Swinging out of the backfield, he caught a pass in the flat and ran 63 yards before being pulled down.

"For it to come to fruition during the game was something that we both laughed about on Sunday,'' Hammock said. "On that pass, he cut back inbounds and then got vertical on the defender.

"I told him, 'Even though you didn't score, it was still longer than any play you've had since you've been here. Keep working and the next time try to score on it.'''

Ball's 22-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was also noteworthy to Hammock because Ball was able to pull through a tackle attempt and high step into the end zone.

"That's something that he has done constantly over the course of the spring and fall camp,'' Hammock said, "and it was good to see it happen in a game situation.''

Such results are a product of daily preparation in practice, Hammock stressed.

"The one thing I've tried to express to them,'' he said of his tailbacks, "is that you're going to play like you practice. They practiced hard (last week) and we need to continue to do that every week.''

When UW coach Bret Bielema was asked Monday what went into the offense's efficiency against UNLV, highlighted by eight scores in the first eight possessions, he said, "Hopefully preparation.''

Bielema then credited his offensive coaching staff for putting it all together.

"They work well together,'' he said. "Everyone understands what their roles are. They practiced very clean during fall camp that led to some very good things you saw (in the opener).

"The good news is that I think we can be better.''

That has been Hammock's message to his runners. "Details,'' he said. "It's something we can always strive to clean up and try to get as close to perfect as possible.''

He did single out a James White run that bordered on perfection.

"He made a jump cut outside,'' he said, "and with the safety coming up he had a nice stiff arm and made the guy miss for a 22-yard run. We always talk about making that last guy miss.

"Obviously, there were some more guys out there to run him down but I just think that was something we can build up. What we do every day in practice, we should be able to do in a game.

"That's what I liked most about what I saw (from Ball and White). It's always good see the carryover of what we've been trying to work on. But there are a lot of things we can do better.''

Hammock was generally pleased with the way Ball and White caught the ball. The only exception was a low pass over the middle that Ball failed to look into his hands and dropped.

"Montee has to catch that,'' Hammock said. "That's something we stress. Look the ball all the way in before you run. If he catches that ball, he's got a chance to make something big happen.''

Gordon, Lewis get their chance
The Badgers got off to such a big lead against the Rebels that they removed their starters early in the second half; resulting in valuable playing experience for tailbacks Jeff Lewis and Melvin Gordon.

"They did some good things,'' Hammock said. "But we still have some work to do.''

Heeding Hammock's emphasis on taking care of the details is the starting point.

"If you make a certain cut in practice, chances are you're going to make the same cut in a game,'' he said. "Everything I put on that practice tape is getting them ready for game situations.''

That should be the motivation to take care of all the little things in practice, he reiterated.

"But it was good that they had the opportunity to play,'' Hammock allowed.

Bielema indicated that Lewis and Gordon would get chances on special teams. "First off, Jeff and Melvin are probably two of our faster guys on the team,'' Bielema said.

That makes them both attractive for the kickoff coverage unit. "Also Jeff Lewis has enough size that he can run down the middle of the field and be faster than anybody else,'' Bielema said.

Gordon could get reps on punt coverage, too. "I'd like to incorporate Melvin,'' he said, "just because he's got some elusiveness maybe as a punt blocker.''

Gordon could also wind up returning kickoffs.

Does Bielema have any reservations about using White on that unit?

"No, not really,'' he said. "James has been doing that (returning kicks) ever since he was in high school and he wants to do it here. I asked him, 'Is this something you want to do?' And he said, 'Yes.'

"What I've done as a head coach is make sure in situations where in the second half we're up by a certain number of points ... all of a sudden, James is off the unit.''

That's also the Bielema rule of thumb for pulling Jared Abbrederis off punt returns, Jacob Pedersen off the frontline of kick returns and Bradie Ewing off all four phases of special teams.

"We need them to have the opportunity to win the rest of our games,'' Bielema said.