When the University of Wisconsin kicked off its season against Utah State on Sept. 1, it became clear Bradrick Shaw had parlayed a strong finish last year with an outstanding offseason. The sophomore earned the prestigious title of starting running back for the Badgers, receiving double the carries of any other back on the roster against the Aggies.
He missed the next game due to a right leg injury, opening the door for true freshman Jonathan Taylor to rush for 223 yards and three touchdowns against Florida Atlantic. Taylor never slowed down, taking over Shaw’s starting role and exploding into a dark horse Heisman candidate weeks later.
Has the demotion, though, been as discouraging for Shaw as one might expect?
“Not really,” he said. "We’re a group. We see (Taylor) balling out, and it’s helping our team get better. It’s just good watching him get those reps."
Perhaps it’s also easier to cope when considering Shaw will remain an important piece to UW’s offense.
His limited return to the lineup against BYU resulted in just four carries before the Badgers handed him the ball nine and 12 times the next two weeks, respectively. Shaw said Tuesday he’s just now beginning to feel about 95-100 percent healthy, and Saturday’s game against Purdue will be his first without a brace on his leg.
The workload he receives this weekend may indicate how many carries he’ll take from Taylor moving forward.
“No telling what (running backs) coach (John Settle) will do Saturday,” Shaw said. "I’m not really sure. I just know I’ve got to continue getting better."
Shaw’s ability hasn’t changed since Week 1, when the coaching staff viewed him as the top back in a run-first offense. As a redshirt freshman last season, Shaw averaged 4.95 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns over his final six games, and while it didn’t last, he initially beat out a crowded and talented running back group to carry the load against Utah State.
Taylor’s emergence, while coming at the expense of Shaw’s statistics, gives UW a dangerous one-two punch that may not have materialized otherwise.
“Bradrick’s fantastic,” UW offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. "Freaking fantastic. … He’s doing an outstanding job. I love where he’s at. I think he’s getting better each week, and we’re going to need him in a big way.
"That’s a season. That’s what a season brings on. We’re going to lean on different guys at different times, and I’ve got no question there’s going to be a point where we lean heavy on Bradrick, and he’ll answer that call."
Rudolph noted that Shaw’s attitude throughout the past month exemplifies the type of culture UW wants to maintain. He said young players notice that type of unselfishness and emulate it later in their careers.
Taylor's stolen the spotlight, but he said the Badgers’ running backs feed off each other, and Shaw’s continued to give him advice every day in practice and even during games.
“Brad knows that we need everybody,” Taylor said. "We know we’re going to need everyone if we want to try to win a national championship."
That certainly includes Shaw.
"Bradrick’s a really good teammate, and he’s a good running back,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. "I love the kid and really think he’s talented, and as he continues to get healthy, he’ll be good.
"He’ll have his moments. They’ll come."