August 31, 2010

Have no doubt, White will play

MADISON - Running backs coach John Settle is not shy when it comes to talking about his vaunted unit. He's ready, willing and eager to discuss the progress, growth and game plan for his unit, probably because most people know that Wisconsin is going to run the ball.

It's what they have historically done and what they will continue to do.

So when asked whether there would be a pitch count of sorts in relation to John Clay entering the season opener against UNLV, it wasn't surprising to hear and up front answer.

"You're definitely right," Settle said. "We progressed him as the days and weeks went on and we got into two-a-days and those types of things. We're going to take the same approach against UNLV."

The reason the coaches are so intent on keeping Clay limited in the early part of the season is because they want to ease him back into live game situations without forcing him to do too much and aggravate what have been ailing ankles throughout his entire career.

He's too much a focal point of the offense to be risking in games that the Badgers should be able to win, such as UNLV, San Jose State and Austin Peay, without his top-notch services.

Plus, he's still not quite 100 percent.

"If I had to give a number I'd probably say he's around 85 or 90 percent," Settle said. "But if he gets going you never know. But we're going to have to be smart with what we do with him. The biggest thing is him communicating with us to let us know how he feels.

"If he can go, we're going to let him go."

In order to have a relationship like that, however, Clay has to be honest with the coaches about how he's feeling and the coaches have to trust that he's giving them his word. Plenty of times players get the competitive juices flowing and think they're capable of carrying a bigger load than they are.

According to Settle, though, that won't be the case with Clay.

"I think he's beyond that," Settle said. "The one thing that's helped us this camp is that we did have to kind of limit him early. He's been able to see Montee Ball and James White both do well. He realizes it's a team sport and he's going to get his opportunities down the road and that type of thing.

"The big picture is we want to win the ballgame."
By easing Clay into contact against non-conference opponents, the coaching staff, particularly Settle, wants to have Clay at 100 percent entering conference play in a little over a month.

"Exactly," Settle said. "We want him to play and we want him to get hit and we want him to get into game shape. We'll use the first four games for that. We want to be ready. All the Big Ten teams want to win the Big Ten so that's our goal and our focus. To get him ready when we are facing Michigan State in the Big Ten opener."

The Ball is in his court:

With Clay on a 'pitch count' through the early portion of the schedule, plenty of reliance will be placed upon the back of Ball. And if his freshman season and fall camp are any indication, the experienced sophomore should be set to go.

"He's taken that step," Settle said. "He didn't rest on his laurels through the off-season. He put on good weight. He got bigger, he got stronger and he got thicker by hitting the weight room. I think he has a good little burst. The one thing he did for us was he took a step and learned the protection scheme that Zach Brown was doing last year and has done the last three years.

"He took it upon himself to make sure he learned that package and understands that."

With Brown taking a likely redshirt, Ball will likely see more carries than a season ago because the coaching staff will probably utilize Ball's backup James White in a set package.

"He's giving us an opportunity to leave him on the field more and have confidence that he's going to know what to do," Settle said. "I just like the maturation process he's going through and I look for him to be able to build upon last season's success."

White's plan:

Last week head coach Bret Bielema said James White was going to be the featured kick and punt return man for the Badger special teams unit. Then, Monday at his weekly press conference, White was listed as the No. 2 punt returner behind David Gilreath on the initial depth chart.

But that doesn't mean the freshman standout won't get an opportunity.

"I think he's a guy that you want to get the ball in his hands anyway you can," Settle said. "David Gilreath has proven he can do it. If there is another way to get James on the field and to give us a spark, I think we should go for it. I think all the players are excited because they've seen him practice and can see what he can do.

"I think it would be one of those things that could really provide a spark for the guys up front blocking and the guys on the sideline."

As far as White's role in the offense goes, it seems his versatility is too hard to resist.

"As far as I'm concerned we've kind of broken camp but this week is going to determine a lot of playing time in the opener," Settle said. "We'll see where John is coming out of the week and then we'll see where Montee and James are. For me to try and make a prediction with several days of preparation left, I don't think would be fair to those guys.

"But he's going to play. If I can guarantee you one thing, it's that he's going to play."

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