A four-year letterman as a running back at Appalachian State and a six-year veteran of the NFL, Settle loves coaching his backs and loves being around the game period, hence his smiling persona.
But while other coaches lost precious sleep and watched their hair turn gray during a challenging spring season, Settle has smiled even more. The reason is simple: a combination of six healthy fullbacks and running backs that each brought a different ingredient to the table during Wisconsin's 15-practice spring semester.
With no major injuries and the emergences of freshman John Clay, Settle will rest soundly this spring, knowing that the Badgers have a plethora of options in the running game to give opponents plenty of headaches.
BN: Did you get what you wanted out of your four running backs this spring? With everyone being healthy, there is a lot of work to be divided up.
John Settle: Oh yeah. I like where they are. Obviously P.J. has had the most snaps and has had the most success over his career, he's a little bit further ahead. You're looking at Zach Brown and some of the things he's been able to do. I think he's picked up where he left off and he's very steady. Lance missed some time because of the ‘off-the-field' last year. I think he's a little bit behind and needs to continue to mature mentality. Physically he's very talented, there's no question about that. I think he would be much further ahead if he had the opportunity to play all 13 games last year.
And John Clay, he's a guy that needs to continue to play. When he gets going, he's tough for defenses to stop (laughs). The thing I have seen with him in practices is the more reps he has, the more of a flow he gets into and continues to get better and better. We're going to continue to grow in that. He's got to continue to practice so we understand what is role is, who he is and what he brings to the table.
BN: John seems to bring the best of both words since you can see the speed he has in addition to his size and physicality. Has he really grown into his own over the past year when you look at where he was last year?
John Settle: I think it's night and day. Physically to watch him and look at him, you would think with his size that he wouldn't be able to change direction and do some of the things he's able to do. He has a good mixture of size and speed and power. In the Big Ten, that gives you a chance to be successful. You're going to take some hits because of the physical play of this conference. With all the things he brings to the table, you feel good about it. With four guys, at any given time, you could be down to three or two guys with injuries and that type of things. He's a good guy to have in your system to be able backup P.J. Hill. It gives you another hammer type guy and to be able to come in on third downs and pass protect. I like who is he, that's he's in our program and he just needs to continue to play and mature to get better.
BN: How does your preparation change with Lance with him being a wide out? Does that change anything for you in terms of game planning with him?
John Settle: We're just trying to utilize his skills. For us, it's still regular personal but it is just a different thing. He's still considered a back. We just formation in different to allow him to move around and give him a chance to get out in space and use his speed and athleticism, usually against a smaller guy. Right now, he's involved in all the individual time. He does all the drills. We wouldn't even consider calling him a wide out, he's still a running back (laughs). We are just going to do some different things.
BN: Wisconsin has so many talented running backs and the competition that the fullbacks are getting glazed over. Chris Pressley looks almost like a different player to from seeing him and talking to him. Can you see the changes he's made to his game and how he's been able to implement those changes so far and the importance of having Bill Rentmeester back?
John Settle: Yeah, both guys. When the season ended and you start talking about spring preparation, the one thing we knew we were going to have were two fullbacks that were going to play for us and four tailbacks. We felt that if nothing else, we could get our running game going and the fullbacks had to be a big part of that.
We return a lot of lineman, too, so we wanted to create a mentality of toughness and wanted to be physical and run at people. We put that on early so when they went to go workout, they knew that this spring was going to be physical, they would be involved and we were going to do some things in the running game that required them to be successful so we can be successful. Those guys have come out, working in some things and at the point of attack, they have really shown their strength. Once the ball is snapped, I liked how they attacked the defense and gave us a chance to compete.
BN: With the four talented tailbacks being able to carry the load, is the fullback position going to primarily be a blocking position this year? With Chris last year, he carried the ball more so than he had in the past.
John Settle: The first thing they have to do is be able to block. For the psyche of the team, if they are doing a great job blocking, we can reward them and that's what we tell them and hand it to them a couple of times. You never know what that number is going to be. It's one of those situations where they understand that they are an extension of the offensive line and that they are guarding the backfield. Their first job is to block and then we'll get the ball to them. They have to understand that they can get the ball in their hands but their primarily job is to being a lead blocker, cut off the backside and that's while they are important and they were both brought here. Anything above that is icing on the cake.
BN: Wisconsin just recruited one running back this year from the talented-rich school of Bolingbrook in Erik Smith. How excited are you to have him in camp and what do you foresee his role to be with this team next year?
John Settle: Just from recruiting and watching him for the last couple of years, I like the fact that he gives us another guy that we can move around like a Lance Smith type guy. He's another home run hitter with a lot of speed. I think he can come right in and fit in with what we do. The one thing is you don't want to put a lot pressure on a freshman but at the same time, he's heard the same talk all these guys have heard. It's all about competing and competition. I expect him to come in, learn the system and get into our summer program to learn the offense and terminology. That will give him a chance to compete in the fall.
BN: Is it realistic that he can be involved and not take the redshirt or with so much depth, is it hard to say?
John Settle: It is hard to say. You are exactly right. Like we talked about, you never know. Something happens. Someone gets injured or something crazy happens off the field. I think he's a guy that can come in and learn the system and give him a chance to play. Then it just comes down to a numbers thing.
BN: Is the number one on the depth chart with P.J. set or is this going to be a competition that is going to come down to late August?
John Settle: You can begin to see some things take shape. Both P.J. and Zach played pretty good this spring but it's ‘What have you done for me lately?' It's never going to be a thing where one guy is automatically penciled in from week to week. We're always all about competition and producing. It's a production business so whoever has the best week of practice who we feel gives the best opportunity to win on Saturday, that's the guy we are going to play. I think from talking to them, they heed that philosophy and appreciate that everybody is going to be held accountable and at no point in time are they allowed to take their foot off the gas. Right now, those two guys are playing pretty well.
BN: Don't play favorites but do you think that the running back position is going to be one of the stronger points of the offense? With so many different weapons, is that going to be one of the hardest things for a defense to contain?
John Settle: I don't if it's going to be the hardest thing but the one thing that I like is the fact that all the guys that are going to play for us, two fullbacks and four tailbacks, that everything is intact and we have an opportunity to work on that. It's not like the quarterback position where we are trying to find a starter and that type of thing. It's the one position that is the strong point for us and gives us a chance to be successful on Saturdays.