November 4, 2009

Clay is fresh for UW heading down the strecth

MADISON - During fall camp, Wisconsin running backs coach John Settle was hoping sophomore running back John Clay would limit the number of hits he wouldn't necessarily have to take. Through eight games, Clay has done a good job of that and remains in good shape for the stretch run.

Following Tuesday's practice, caught up with Settle to discuss the position he coaches. The following is a question and answer with Settle.

I remember talking with you in the preseason during fall camp. You were trying to say that you wanted John Clay to maybe limit the contact he's taken. Maybe not limiting the contact, but maybe not initiating as much contact as he necessarily has to. Is he kind of doing that?

Settle: I think so. When you watch him on film, he's not taking a lot of direct hits. He's doing a good job of slipping tacklers. The one thing that we talked about and tried to focus on is trying to set guys up a little more to get them off balance. Maybe he can run through guys without even getting touched. So, we're working on that in practice. We put our steps in notes and position in practice when we're going against our defense or against scouts.

He's been good. I know there are times when you can't avoid contact when you're running inside, but for the most part, he's doing a heck of a job of showing some agility, making people miss and turning what would be one or two yard runs into five or 10 yard runs.

Against Iowa he kind of got wrapped up and it was kind of an awkward thing when he got hurt a little bit. Did you see any of that wavering of confidence after that in the game or even in practice the following week?

Settle: I know it scared him. When you get bent back like that, I think the initial thing was fear. I think as the trainers checked him and he got up and moved around on it and felt how everything was stable, he was able to snap back in. He showed up this week and ran like he had been running in previous games.

I like where he is mentally. I like the way he approaches the game. Down the stretch, we told him early, for us to go we need him to go. I think he's kind of accepted that and taken that on. He's giving us an opportunity to be a big success.

We're getting kind of late into the season here, is he still fresh?

Settle: I think for game nine he's in great shape. Like we talked about in the preseason, this is the Big 10. You're going to take some lumps but the thing is we talked about trying to condition ourselves in the preseason to prepare for a physical season. That's what he did and that's what he's been able to play through.

He's got the nicks and bruises like everybody else, but right now at this stage in the game, he's done well.

What about the progress of Montee Ball? I see he's been getting a lot more carries over the last few weeks.

Settle: I think that's part of the reason that John has been able to bounce back from week to week. With the progress of Montee, being able to come in on first and second down situations and take some 15-20 plays off of John. I think that helps. We want to be physical in the run game and we want to come downhill at people.

We got John at 245 and Montee comes in at 230, it wears some people down. Our thought process is trying to get John into the fourth quarter fresh. We've been able to do that. Montee has come in with the mindset that he's going to play. After he went through a few things, he was able to lock in and focus. The last few weeks he's been able to come in and play and get very valuable reps, and get John off the field which helps us.

He's listed No. 2 on the depth chart, did he just pass Zach Brown? Or was it kind of a punishment thing with Zach and the fumbles?

Settle: No, no, it wasn't a punishment thing. As a team, when we looked at it offensively, our makeup has always been physical. We felt like Montee and his running style, being a little bigger, running behind his pads gave us a chance to continue to pound the ball, move the ball and move the chains when he came in behind John.

Zach's role, and I just had this talk with him, he's kind of like where he was last year with P.J. Hill and John. He's going to come in on third downs. If we get into a rhythm on offense, he's probably going to stay in. If we convert, he'll probably stay in on first and second down and get more opportunities. Montee came in and with his running ability and his style, once he started to make plays, it was hard to get him off the field.

Is Zach kind of handling it pretty good?

Settle: If you watch the game last week, he's about where we wanted him. He's in 10-15 reps a game, usually third down or two-minute situations. The thing with him is that he understands that when he's on the field it's a crucial time. If we convert, we move the chains so he has to be able to protect. That's the one thing he's done. He knows all the protection adjustments and all those types of things.

I think he takes pride of the fact that he's on the field on third down and two-minute situations because that's when a lot of defenses are going to challenge you. He's a team player. Was he happy? At first, no. But he saw and understood how it helped the team and how it all worked together. He's moving to that role and he's going to continue to help us the next few weeks and we'll see where we end up.

You look at the film, any consideration of putting Lance Kendricks back there at tailback with the way he ran the ball?

Settle: No, but he was impressive. We'll find ways to get him. Coach Paul Chryst and coach Bob Bostad, they are very innovative people. They come up with a lot of good stuff. So I'm sure they're going to try to work some ways to get him the ball more.

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