For the Wisconsin Badgers to take the "next step" this upcoming season, they'll need to rely heavily on what has become their catalyst for years: running the ball down the opposition's throats.
The experienced and gritty offensive line for Wisconsin appears ready to do their part in establishing a solid running game this season. The biggest question lies in the man carrying the ball.
Coming off his most impressive season—rushing for more than 1,500 yards, 18 touchdowns, and receiving Big Ten Offensive POY Honor—it may seem odd that I even question Wisconsin HB John Clay. But, along with his impressive knack for finding holes, shoving the line forward, and grinding out every yard, Clay is also known for two more things: weight and injury.
Clay has had a history of struggling with weight coming out of the offseason and entering fall. In summer camp before the 2009-10 season, Clay was on the hot seat with coaches and media when he came in much heavier then many had wished. Regardless, Clay was able to work his way back into shape, and have the breakout season that now has him as a "Heisman hopeful" this year.
This spring, those same concerns came back into play. In attempts to fix his nagging ankle injuries, Clay was to undergo two different surgeries (one for each ankle) in the offseason. This prevented him from taking part in spring practices and any vigorous workouts or activity. From what I saw in spring ball, Clay's weight looked like it was going to be a considerable issue heading into the season. Since I don't have a specific number in mind, I'll just say that Clay looked more like a top-heavy fullback or blocking tight end.
This morning (July 29), Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema made an appearance on a local sports morning talk show, Lucas & Lepay . During the interview, Bielema touched on his feelings about his halfback's shape.
"He has got his weight down," said Bielema, who wouldn't offer a specific weight. "He came in yesterday for a meeting. I was just psyched the way he looked."
Bielema also spoke strongly about Clay's possible 2011 Heisman candidacy.
"We're a good football team and he is one of our better players," Bielema said. "The formula here at Wisconsin has been that if John Clay has the numbers that we want him to have and we need him to have, he will be right in the mix for the Heisman..."
It'll be very intriguing to get a good look at Clay's shape when he attends Big Ten Media Day as one of three player representatives for Wisconsin.