Lucas at Large: Gordon's flashes are getting noticed

FB_120416_Gordon_Melvin.jpgOne of the most meaningful endorsements that a tailback can get is from a linebacker who's entrusted with bringing him down on a regular basis. There's no better measuring stick than the collisions that routinely occur in these situations between the ball-carrier and the tackler.

So listen to what linebacker Chris Borland has to say about tailback Melvin Gordon:

"He's always been an athletic freak since the first day he stepped on campus,'' Borland said of the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Gordon, a redshirt freshman out of Kenosha Bradford High School. "He's a big guy with raw speed. He's got a burst and there are very few guys who can catch him in the secondary.''

Last fall, Gordon saw action in three of the first four games, including eight rushes for 32 yards and his first career touchdown Sept. 24 against South Dakota at Camp Randall Stadium. Overall, he had 28 carries for 98 yards before being sidelined for the rest of the season with a groin injury.

Gordon was able to qualify for a medical redshirt -- thereby preserving four years of eligibility -- because he appeared in less than one-third (4) of the UW's regular season games. During Rose Bowl practices, Gordon returned and got reps simulating Oregon's LaMichael James for the Badgers' No. 1 defense.

This spring, Gordon has reclaimed his own identity all the way to his jersey number: No. 25, which he wore at Bradford when he rushed for over 2,000 yards and 38 touchdowns as a senior. In the 2011 training camp, there was the expectation that Gordon would help the Badgers on special teams.

Gordon switched to No. 3 to avoid a potential duplicate number situation with Adam Hampton, a senior defensive back, who was one of the UW leaders on special teams. Hampton was also No. 25.

"Coach B (Bret Bielema) said that he would give me my number back, so No. 3 was temporary,'' Gordon said.

Yes, and no. Last Saturday, Gordon was once again No. 3 -- on the depth chart at tailback -- behind Heisman finalist Montee Ball and James White, a 1,000-yard rusher as a true freshman in 2010. Competing with Gordon for that No. 3 slot is Jeff Lewis, who sat out the scrimmage because of an injury.

White and Gordon each had some explosive downfield runs.

"I'm just out here every day trying to grind and catch up from last year,'' said Gordon, who conceded that he has been able to close some of that ground that he lost to the others "with a new playbook'' under offensive coordinator Matt Canada. "It kind of evened it out for me,'' he said.

Asked for specifics on how the mix of four new assistants on offense may have impacted the play-calling, Gordon said, "It's a little simpler. The terminology has changed a little bit but when it comes down do it, we're still doing the same things, we're still playing Wisconsin football.''

In retrospect, Gordon feels like he got the most out of his disjointed freshman season. "Even though I wasn't participating, I was mentally preparing myself by knowing the plays,'' he said. "I definitely felt like I got mentally stronger. Being a young player, it comes with maturity.''

Borland saw the same things happening with Gordon.

"Early on, he epitomized the young guy,'' Borland recalled. "He came in and didn't quite know how to work. But he has picked up great tips from Montee and James and I definitely think he's going to play and contribute this year.''

Ball, in particular, has been a guiding light for the more inexperienced players on the roster. "Montee is a natural leader just by the way he goes about his business,'' said Borland. "Over the last season and into the spring, Montee has kind of a developed a voice, too, for the offense.''

Gordon paid Ball the ultimate compliment. "I try to compete against Montee,'' he said, singling out Ball's leadership and "how he carries himself in the workouts'' and on the practice field. "I'm just trying to learn how he works so when he leaves I'll know what to do and how to get there.''

Another Bradford product, freshman Vonte Jackson, has joined the "family'' of UW tailbacks. "That's how it is -- it's a brotherhood,'' Gordon said of the position group. "We're real close, we're together all the time outside of here (the stadium). If one needs help the other is there to provide that help.''

Based on the early results, Gordon is a strong candidate to help the Badgers wherever and whenever needed. Besides honing his receiving skills this spring -- what he calls "working on my craft'' -- there is Gordon' recognition that "Montee and James are the top guys'' in the backfield.

So does he feel like that he has something to prove?

"Yes sir,'' Gordon said. "It's important to get my name out there.''

So far, so good

"He's the real deal,'' Borland said.
ON WISCONSIN