Aug. 3, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Melvin Gordon showed up for Media Day as a "Gordan'' not a Gordon. His name was misspelled on the back of his red Wisconsin game jersey. But he was one-upped by Jeffrey Lewis, who showed up Friday at Camp Randall Stadium as a defensive back, not a running back. It was not a mistake.
Lewis is now a safety, not a tailback; an off-season move that was made to fill a void in the Badgers' secondary. The last time that Lewis lined up on defense was during his sophomore year at Brookfield Central High School. He got some snaps at linebacker. That was a long time ago.
How long will it take to know whether Lewis can make the transition? "I would say you'd have a pretty good idea after practice five; you'll have an idea of where you are with it,'' said UW safeties coach Bill Busch. Right now, he conceded, "The jury is completely out but I'm really excited to have him.''
When the Badgers open their 2013 training camp Monday, there will be a little history on their side. A year ago, Derek Watt made the switch from linebacker to fullback just before the start of fall drills. It turned out to be a great move, too. Watt showed considerable promise in a new role.
Busch cited a personal example. While he was a Utah assistant, he took a fourth-string tailback, Morgan Scalley, and converted him into a safety. "He (Scalley) came with me for one practice during two-a-days,'' Busch said. "I remember saying, `He's good enough to be all-conference.'''
Scalley lived up to the expectations, and then some. As a senior on a 12-0 Utah team, he was named the Mountain West Conference co-Defensive Player of the Year. He was also a unanimous first-team all-conference selection and a second-team Associated Press and SI.com All-American.
Lewis, a redshirt junior, is not under pressure to reach those heights. But if he can make a successful transition to safety, he would be patching a hole in a UW defense that returns just one starter in the secondary; Dez Southward, a viable All-Big Ten and All-American candidate.
Southward has been serving as a role model. "I've been looking at Dez like I've been looking at Montee (Ball) the past couple of years,'' said Lewis, who had been an understudy to not only Ball but James White. "Dez is amazing at what he does and I'm trying to replicate everything.''
As the No. 4 tailback last season behind Ball, White and Gordon, Lewis appeared in three games and got just four carries in mop-up duty. Considering that he has managed only 37 career rushes in his first two seasons, there has always been speculation on whether Lewis could play another position.
"When coach (Gary) Andersen got here, he offered me the opportunity to play D-Back,'' recounted Lewis. "He said whenever I would like to make that call, it would be my decision. He would never force me to do it. So I'm just taking it and running with it and trying to make the most of it.
"Football is kind of like a puzzle at this level. It's like a science, a classroom; you just keep learning and learning. I know what the offense is trying to do on first-and-10 or third-and-short. Now I get to see it (the game) from a completely different point of view and I have to get used to it.
"I've been working a lot on backpedaling this summer. As a D-back, you don't get to run forward and make moves on people (like a tailback). That's probably the biggest change: running backwards. Playing basketball (in high school) helped even though it's a different form of running than football.''
There have been certain limitations in his preparation for the first week of practice, most notably simulating live tackling. "But I do practice my steps at home; breaking down, planting and getting in and out of my cuts, my breaks,'' he said. "It does help a lot doing that in front of a mirror.''
Lewis has also been getting himself up-to-speed mentally. "I've been trying to give myself a head start by knowing the playbook really well,'' he said. "I feel like that's half the battle. If you know what the defense is doing and where you're supposed to be, everything else will fall into place.''
To update the learning process, the UW players have been all equipped with iPads. "I love them, they're amazing,'' Lewis said. "It's so convenient now to be laying in bed and being able to watch film. When I heard that we were getting them I was so psyched and I'm trying to take advantage of it.''
The coaching staff is definitely on board with the iPads. During his Friday news conference, Andersen listed some plusses, "It's a big step for us ... technology is important ... it opens up a lot of windows ... watching opponents, watching cut-ups ... it's a huge advantage ... not many teams have it.''
Busch is a huge proponent of utilizing resources. Going old school, he pointed out, "It's just nice not to have to haul around a giant playbook.'' Beyond that, he added, "The players love them. That's a plus. No one says, `I love my playbook.' That has never been said. But they do love their iPads.''
Sharing another flashback, Busch continued, "Back in the day, the players would come in and watch film or we'd send them home with DVDs. It was a lot of work. Now they can download an opponent's first three games and they can take a look at them during their own time.''
But he issued a caution. "In certain situations, you can go off the deep end, too,'' he said, suggesting technology can be overused. "You have to be able to get to what they can handle. To do that, you have to give them specifics, `This is what I need you to do, this is what I need you to watch.'''
A lot of people will be watching Lewis in training camp, and he sounded ready for the scrutiny and the role change. "Sure it's new,'' he said. "But I'm ready for it, man."