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Bradrick Shaw-position battle series

Wisconsin Badgers running back Bradrick Shaw (7) celebrates his fourth quarter touchdown run in a game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. M.P. KING, STATE JOURNAL

Leading up to the start of fall camp Aug. 1, State Journal beat writer Jason Galloway will break down the University of Wisconsin’s top five position battles for the upcoming season. Today, in Part 3, he takes a look at the Badgers’ No. 2 running back.

DEPARTING

  • Taiwan Deal
  • Chris James
  • Mark Saari

After dealing with numerous ankle injuries earlier in his career, Deal filled this role nicely for the Badgers last season. He rushed for 545 yards and six touchdowns on 82 carries and only missed one game.

James worked more in a passing-down role but also gave UW more depth as a runner. His departure should clear the way for some of the Badgers’ young talent at the position to see more reps this fall.

THE FAVORITE

  • Nakia Watson, Fr.

Watson hasn’t played a down of college football yet, but he enters his redshirt freshman season as the best bet to back up Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor.

The 5-foot-11, 232-pound Texas native was tabbed as a nice complement to Taylor as far back as December 2017, when UW coach Paul Chryst said as much on The Big Ten Network’s Signing Day Special.

When asked generally about UW’s backup running back options at Big Ten Media Days earlier this month, Taylor spoke exclusively about Watson, calling him a “big back that can run” and saying that he’ll be a nice change-up when Taylor’s on the bench. Taylor also said Watson showed flashes this spring and it’s “just a matter of time” before he gets in-game experience.

The Red Zone podcast: Pre-camp Badgers mailbag

IN THE RUNNING

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  • Bradrick Shaw, Sr.
  • Isaac Guerendo, Fr.
  • Garrett Groshek, Jr.

You can’t count out Shaw, a senior who actually began the 2017 season as the Badgers’ starting running back ahead of Taylor. Shaw tore his ACL against Minnesota in November of that year and missed the entire 2018 season.

Taylor praised Guerendo’s speed at Big Ten Media Days when asked who had stood out during summer conditioning, calling him a “blazer.” Guerendo switched from wide receiver this offseason and earned plenty of reps this spring when other running backs missed practice time.

Expect Groshek to continue his role as UW’s top passing-down back. Perhaps he could lobby coaches for a little early-down work, but not as the Badgers’ No. 2 guy behind Taylor.

DARK HORSE

  • Julius Davis, Fr.

Davis, a true freshman, comes to Madison from Menomonee Falls and looks the part of a future star.

It won’t be easy for him to step in as Taylor’s direct backup immediately. He didn’t enroll early this spring, and he recently returned to full strength after sports hernia surgery.

Still, he possesses enough talent to potentially surprise coaches this fall and show he’s more ready than expected for an immediate role.

Wisconsin Badgers position battles preview: Outside linebacker

EXPECTATIONS

The Badgers should be in good shape behind Taylor. Deal provided UW with quality snaps a year ago, but there are still talented players at the position who now have an opportunity for more playing time.

Taylor’s carried the ball 606 times over the past two years, and it’ll be important for Watson or others to prove themselves capable of giving him a rest.

Bucky!

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