It was hard to tell who was more excited about freshman Melvin Gordon’s long touchdown run during the University of Wisconsin football team’s most recent scrimmage.
Running backs coach Thomas Hammock might have run as fast as he has since his college days at Northern Illinois, chugging down the sidelines to meet Gordon before he even got in the end zone.
Then there was junior running back Montee Ball, who greeted Gordon by jumping on top of him.
While the 58-yard bolt around left end Thursday was called back by an illegal-shift penalty, that did little to quell the buzz Gordon has created during camp.
Gordon, from Kenosha Bradford, not only is expected to play this season, he appears to have moved past redshirt freshman Jeff Lewis as the third tailback, based on the rotation before practices were closed to the media Friday.
During the scrimmage, Gordon got the most carries of any of the backs, including four series with the starting offense. He unofficially finished with 11 carries for 38 yards.
“I did OK,” said Gordon, who is 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds. “I’ve still got to do better. Some mistakes I made, I’ve got to fix. I’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Gordon dropped a pass when he attempted to make a move before securing the ball. But he also had two receptions for 34 yards.
Since the start of summer workouts, Gordon is the incoming freshman who has made the biggest impression on his new teammates.
While he runs a bit upright, he has a nice combination of speed and power. A smooth runner, it doesn’t always appear he’s running as fast — or as hard — as he is.
“I think he’s the fastest running back,” junior linebacker Mike Taylor said of UW’s top four running backs. “Overall, he’s a great back — speed, power and shifty, He’s got it.”
In the first scrimmage, Gordon knocked 240-pound linebacker Ethan Armstrong out with a concussion while running through a tackle attempt. Gordon rarely goes down on initial contact.
Just don’t ask him to break down his own running style
“I’m just running, man,” he said. “I’m just trying to move the ball.”
Gordon arrived amid high expectations after rushing for more than 4,800 yards and scoring more than 90 touchdowns in his prep career. But he also knew how good the running backs were ahead of him on the depth chart.
“I’m just trying to show the coaches I can play,” Gordon said of his approach. “My coach pushes me every day. He’s just trying to get me ready.”
UW coach Bret Bielema always says he wants players who accept coaching and Gordon has done that. The coaches were tough on him early and he handled it, along with everything else.
“I think he’s competitive,” Hammock said. “It’s really important to him because he studies the game and wants to be better.
“When he makes a mistake, he gets down on himself. I just tell him, ‘At the end of the day, it’s about having fun. Don’t get down on yourself. Football is not a game of perfect. At the same time, learn from your mistake and improve upon it the next time.’ ”
If Gordon is going to be ready to contribute right away, he has a lot to learn in a short time. That’s why Hammock has yet to let up on him, but don’t think Gordon is bothered by that.
“He just wants perfection, or as close as a freshman can be to it,” Gordon said.
Though senior quarterback Russell Wilson has gotten all of the work with the starting offense since sophomore Jon Budmayr has been out with an elbow injury, Bielema stopped short of anointing Russell the starter following practice Saturday night. “I know everybody wants that,” Bielema said. “We’ll put out our starting lineup on Monday but (Wilson) has been running with the ones all the way through.” ... Senior right guard Kevin Zeitler and redshirt freshman right tackle Rob Havenstein, who have been out with ankle injuries, took part in the first half of practice. Bielema said he backed off thereafter to give them an extra day to recover, since there’s no practice today.