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James White confident in Senior Bowl showing

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Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
January 26, 2014

MOBILE, Ala.—Each year, players shun the Senior Bowl.

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron is from Mobile and he rejected a Senior Bowl invite. In all, nine uninjured seniors said “thanks, but no thanks” to the all-star game. They see minimal upside.

Then, there’s James White.

The latest NFL-bound Wisconsin running back has a lot of proving to do. He has his behemoth offensive line to thank for that.

“That’s one big thing coming out of Wisconsin,” White said. “It’s always, ‘He’s running behind an NFL offensive line.’ I wanted to come out here and showcase my ability to make people miss and showcase my burst.

“Prove it all.”

Maybe White is doing that. So many decorated collegiate running backs preceded him in Madison, from Brent Moss to Terrell Fletcher to Aaron Stecker to Ron Dayne to Michael Bennett to Brian Calhoun to P.J. Hill to John Clay to, last year, Montee Ball.

There are dashes of hope for Ball—he has 812 total yards in a part-time role as a rookie with the Denver Broncos. But mostly, college dominance has not translated to the pros for Wisconsin backs.

To be different, to make it, White realizes he has to be a Swiss army knife. Pass protect. Be a threat out of the backfield. Run inside, run outside.

In Mobile, he’s confident that heads turned as he practiced for Saturday’s game.

“In today’s game,” White said, “running backs have to be able to do it all. They have to catch the ball out of the backfield and pass protect. I feel I can do those things and do those things pretty well. I came out here this week and tried to show that.”

Various draft analysts peg White as a fourth- or fifth-round pick. Maybe because in 42 combined seasons, the Badgers backs mentioned above produced only one 1,000-yard campaign. This, of course, after running roughshod through Big Ten defenses in college. Dayne still is the NCAA rushing leader.

Play back an old Badgers game and you see why. Golf carts could drive through many of these holes.

The perception that Wisconsin running backs benefit from an NFL line is often reality.

It’s on White to prove he’s his own man. He says he’s done that in Mobile.

“For sure. The holes aren’t always big,” White said. “Sometimes, you have to create your own. I feel like I’ve done that before. But most people may think because I go to Wisconsin that I have a good offensive line and everything’s perfect. But everybody has big holes sometimes, so it’s not just us.

“You have to take advantage of it. If there’s a hole, you have to get to it. Sometimes there isn’t a hole and you have to get what you can.”

Atlanta Falcons offense coordinator Dirk Koetter worked with White on the North team this week.

“I’d have to study him a lot closer,” Koetter said, “but he’s a smart kid. He’s picked it up. And he obviously had a great college career.”

The proliferation of one-, two-, even three-punch NFL backfields makes White appealing. An unselfish worker in college, he rushed for 4,015 yards on 643 attempts (6.2 average) with 45 touchdowns. And last fall, he grew as a receiver, catching 39 passes for 300 yards.

That development continued at Ladd Peebles Stadium. White was versatile, decisive. At 5 feet 9 inches and 206 pounds, he runs with a powerful, low center of gravity.

Said White, “I think I showed some things that most people thought I can’t do.”

In a pro offense, White believes he could even be a Darren Sproles type, a player utilized everywhere.

However he projects, his 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine will be critical. At dinner, White chuckles. Like UW linebacker Chris Borland, he hasn’t run a 40 since high school. In training, he’s deconstructing the 40 down to segments—the start, the stride, the finish. He’ll put it all together in a “mock combine” next month and then give it a shot in front of scouts.

No, he does not see this as any indicator of a good running back.

“It sucks if it has to come down to a 40,” White said. “But that’s just the way it is….Not many times are you going to be running straight as a running back. You have to make a cut here and there. So I think being able to change direction is very key.”

Vision is White’s strength. He’s been a running back his entire life. In the NFL, he says the holes won’t be as big and they’ll exist “for a split-second.”

Last fall, he watched his old teammate closely. Ball overcame his fumbling and heated up into January. On a Super Bowl team, he has a role.

Ball’s advice to White was pointed.

“It’s a business,” Ball told him. “There’s always somebody else trying to take your job.”

Soon, both running backs will be in the NFL. And they’ll both try to change perception.



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