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July 28, 2010

Fall camp preview: Clay back with healthy ankles

When John Clay has a chance to take a look back on his collegiate career, he will likely point to the spring and summer of 2010 as the make or break point.

While the rest of his teammates were enduring a 15-practice schedule throughout March and April, Clay was on the sideline watching as he recovered from surgeries on both of his ankles. Instead of leveling his teammates in contact drills, he was busy figuring out the ins and outs of his set of crutches.

Then the rumors about his weight started circulating throughout Badgerland and it seemed as though the junior and reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year simply couldn't catch a break.

Now, as fall camp is set to begin in less than a week, it seems as though Clay has an opportunity to answer all the questions people have been asking about him.

BIGGEST QUESTION ENTERING CAMP: What to do with Zach Brown?

Since bursting onto the scene as a true freshman in 2007, Brown racked up yardage when a banged up P.J. Hill was injured. Immediately, the 250-yard thrashing against Minnesota comes to the forefront. But since that career day, Brown has slowly seen his role as a running back diminish.

As a sophomore, he was a third option to Hill and Clay and never really got into the same type of flow that he had as a freshman. Then last year, as a junior, Brown started the season as the No. 1 guy ahead of Clay only to see it fizzle after a few fumbles cost him. From that point on, Brown was relegated to the third down back, particularly when Montee Ball started to progress to the point where he could spell Clay.

So now, entering his senior year, what will Brown do for UW? To start spring camp, one would imagine the coaching staff would have an open competition for the second string spot. But if Ball continues to progress in the same manner he has to this point, he will be tough to supplant. And that would obviously leave Brown as the third down guy yet again.

Could the senior use his redshirt? It seems like that could be an option if he feels Clay will forego his senior season in favor of the NFL. But that is only conjecture at this point. There is still plenty of time for Brown to prove himself in camp much like he did a season ago and make a run at not only the second string spot, but the starting nod.

WHAT WE KNOW: Clay will play

If anything was proven last season, it was that Clay loves having the ball and he makes the most of his carries. After sitting out all of spring camp as he recovered from ankle surgery, Clay will be plenty fresh and healthy for the upcoming season. If he rushed for more than 1,500 yards a season ago on two bad ankles, what he can do with two healthy ones and a very experienced and deep line has Badger fans salivating. Back-to-back player of the year honors are not too far fetched for Clay.

FRESH FALL FACES: Jeff Lewis and James C. White

Word out of summer conditioning is that Lewis, a Brookfield (WI) native, has been impressive during workouts. Standing 6-foot-2 and weighing 197 pounds, Lewis has decent size for a young back. If the three-star tailback is able to add a few more pounds to his frame he will likely become a viable option later in his career.

White, a heralded recruit out of powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas, is a powerful runner with adequate speed. Provided he proves he's one with the playbook throughout camp and that he is ready to take on a role during his first season on campus, White could be a valuable special teams asset. He may even be used sparingly throughout the season at the tailback spot.

But then again, redshirts may be in order for both young prospects.

FALL CAMP PREDICTION

Clay will silence any doubters or questioners with an impressive showing through fall camp. With two repaired ankles and fresh legs after having sat out spring camp, Clay will be primed to have more of an impact this season than he did a year ago. That fact is plain scary.

Behind him, Ball, a tough-running sophomore will see an increased role as the primary back up to Clay. A 500-yard season is not too far fetched for Ball. Meanwhile, Brown, who has been relegated to the third down spot, may opt to redshirt. All of which makes the drama of fall camp all the more exciting.

Tomorrow, BadgerBlitz.com previews the wide receivers.



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