Brown and Clay's Upside Excite Settle

Although he was surprised when junior running back P.J. Hill decided to bolt to the NFL, running back coach John Settle is excited by what sophomore John Clay, junior Zach Brown and freshman Erik Smith are bringing talent wise to the running back position. On the same accord, with no one set at the fullback position, Settle is excited to see who steps into the fold.

Badger Nation: Was it a surprise when P.J. Hill declared for the draft?

John Settle: I was surprised. I believed that he made it through a season finally and we would come back and give himself a chance to make it through another season and show that he was durable and put two seasons back to back. I think he would get to really learn how to prepare to be a pro, so to speak, as far as how to study the game, approach the game, approach practice and I really believe he was beginning to do that. Another year would have been great for him.

Badger Nation: At the fullback position, it's tough losing Bill Rentmeester and Chris Pressley. Are you excited that you get to work with a couple new fullbacks?

JS: Oh yeah, I am excited, but at the same time, I have to understand that they aren't Chris and Billy (laugh). I have to be patient, as patient as I can be with what time allows. We do have to get two guys ready to play going into the fall and I know we only get 15 opportunities. Only way to get good at football, especially that position, is to play. You've got to put the pads on, crank it up, run into people, block them and work on your technique. I am aware that we lost two great ones, but the one positive is these guys got a chance to watch them work. Watch them lift weights, watch them on how they approached practice, meetings and games. They had good guys to learn from and if they learned just a little bit from those guys, we're going to be all right.

Badger Nation: One of the things John was said to need to improve upon was know the playbook. Would you agree with that?

JS: Yep, that's the biggest thing. Usually you are saying that about a freshman, because that's the biggest thing that keeps a freshman off the field is not knowing the screens and that type of things. John's a guy that we wanted to take a slow approach with him. Keep him to a couple things to let him get used to that and get him real good at that, because we had the luxury of having P.J.. With P.J. gone, John's workload goes up dramatically and the thing that he's got to prove to us this spring is that he can handle it. Right now, if he's at 50 percent, I would say by the end of spring he's got to be 75-80 percent as far as knowledge of the playbook. When he comes to fall camp, he's got to finish it off. He's a guy that we would like to have on the field on all three downs and he's got to prove that he can handle the load and mentally, he can get it done.

Badger Nation: You guys have talented guys like Zach Brown, Erik Smith and maybe Montee Ball getting in, but does John have that mentality as a workhorse now that he doesn't have P.J. here to take carries?

JS: There were times last year when he got going. You wanted him to have the ball. That Cal Poly game comes to mind. Once he got rolling there in the end, it was pretty much a done deal because they couldn't stop him. The thing that he feels now is that he's not going to have P.J. to come in and bail him out. He's the feature guy, and I am sure he's excited for that opportunity to start the game and not come off the bench every time. I am excited. I am excited to see him develop and see him grow.

Badger Nation: How has John handled the expectations being placed upon him that he needs to know the playbook, be in there for pass protection, catch balls out of the backfield and be the starter?

JS: So far he's doing well but we've barely started (laughing). It's going to be interesting what he does. I am going to be interested to see how he practices. During our off-season meetings, winter meetings, conditioning, he's met with us and the one thing that keeps coming out of every meeting is he's positive, he's excited for the opportunity that he's presented with. He wants to be the guy. Knowing how competitive he is, we're excited to see him go out and perform and compete. All indications is that he's ready to go and I don't have a reason to believe he won't be successful.

Badger Nation: Is there one formation or style that suited him better last year?

JS: Not surprising, he loved being in the I-formation and running down hill. He likes running between the tackles. A young guy is the quickest one to learn. He just wants to learn and not waste any yards. He wants to go down hill and attack defenses and we want to use him outside. He's a big guy and he has good enough speed to get to edge. We just have to open it up a little bit so teams don't know that we are always going to run inside between the tackles and that there are other things we can do.

Badger Nation: Besides knowing the playbook and trying to be most versatile, what are some other things you are really trying to teach and prepare him for next season?

JS: Durability. He's a big guy. Anytime you get a back over six feet, you need to get your pads down and protect yourself. A lot of times you are going to get hit in the legs so we're focusing on being physical, but protecting yourself, as well. If he can do that, he's going to be able to punish defenders and not take much punishment during the full season. There are a lot of things we're going to do with him during the spring with the football in his hands, trying to just prepare him for what is going to happen to him. It's easy coming on the bench but once you're not, everybody is focused on you. I want him to be equipped when he takes to field to be able to attack the defenders and not take a lot of shots.

Badger Nation: How about a guy like Zach Brown? How does he fit into the equation?

JS: The one thing with Zach, because the emergence of John last year, didn't have a lot of opportunities and because of some injuries that hampered him, struggled. I know he's disappointed in the season because he was hoping to get on the field more, but because of circumstances beyond his control, he only got a limited amount of reps. The one thing I told him is that he's got to prove to me that he can be the Zach Brown of 07. I want that guy. If that guy shows up, we're going to be very, very good. If Zach Brown shows up and John Clay can take off like I think he can and then sprinkle in a guy like Erik Smith - a change of pace guy that has great quickness and has position flexibility by lining him up, splitting him outside, doing different things with him, catches the ball well, it gives us a guy that really stretches defenses.

Badger Nation: Is Erik Smith going to be what Zach Brown was for Wisconsin a year ago: a little guy coming off the bench in certain situations to provide a spark? You watch him on film, he has that explosiveness that nobody else on the team has.

JS: That's what we hope. He's a guy that has great burst, great quickness, he's able to move around and he's a guy you can do reverse sweeps with. He's a guy that we've got to find a role in the spring for. That's going to be our job to find out where he fits best and where he helps us most and be able to utilize that come the fall.

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