John Settle: I think his confidence is good. I don't think it's shaken. I think he understands the job of the coaches is to get the best 11 on the field and give us the best chance to compete and win. I told him when we had a talk that the guy that came off the bench as a back-up, we need production out of and at that time, we felt like we weren't getting what we needed out of him. So, we thought we give the young buck a try, give Montee Ball a shot and see if we can create a spark, an energy, because of his youth and he would have a role to continue to play on third down.
After seeing the film and having a discussion, I think he understood. As a competitor, I don't think you really accept it or want to believe that you aren't being productive, but it was evident that we needed to get more out of the backup. With John, we can take a guy off the field that's 245 pounds and replace him with a guy that's 235 pounds in Montee … and I don't think you lose a lot. Our style has been downhill physical, running behind our pads and that's what we wanted. At that point of the season, Zach wasn't being as physical as we wanted, breaking and running through tackles and we decided to make a move and it worked well for us.
Badger Nation: He was that physical guy during fall camp. You could see that in how he took over John, then he lost it for a point. Is he starting to regain what we saw in fall camp?
Settle: Last couple of days in practice, he's beginning to show that burst again by getting his pads down, doing all those things we talked about. Sometimes, it takes a little break and get away from it a little bit. We had another bye week, get the guys re-energized and focused and right now, he is the way he was back in camp. I like the things I see from him in practice finishing runs, running through arm tackles and going 20 yards down the field every time. All those things he did in fall camp that opened everybody's eyes and created a competition. Don't be surprised if we get to Hawaii and he's on the field and is making plays for us.
Badger Nation: When a running back goes over 1,000 yards for a season, is that the biggest satisfaction for a running back coach?<
Settle: Not really (laughing), because I am not running the ball. But I do think it says something for the player that is able to achieve that milestone. Any back that is able to rush for 1,000 yards, things have to go right, and that's a credit to the offensive line and the coaching staff, who has had to shuffle the offensive line. John has been banged up, but he's been able to get himself ready to play week in and week out. I think he really understands injury and pain and knows that sometimes you have to play through pain. To get 1,000 yards in the Big Ten, things have to go right and that's what I think happened.
For me, the satisfaction comes seeing guys reach that milestone. I didn't carry one ball and trust me, I don't want to anymore.
Badger Nation: You look at all the accolades he received and how he came into the season with a lot of hype, but what was lost was how he had to work at being the guy after P.J. Hill – learning the whole playbook, schemes and whatnot.
Settle: I think coming into camp, I don't know how many people doubted his abilities, but he was determined coming into camp. We didn't know if PJ was going to leave and all of a sudden when it happened, it was one of those things were everybody was looking at him. He showed some things in spring ball, but we knew he would have a full grasp of the offense. In the offseason, he spent time trying to learn what he had to do to be an every-down back and has put himself into position that he can play every down. I am a guy that over time, has come to understand that you never doubt John Clay. If he puts his mind to it, he can get it done.
Badger Nation: The dream of every player is to make it to the NFL and that next step, something you are aware of. Have you had that discussion as a coaching staff with him yet, crossing that bridge, or is that something on the back burner for the next couple of weeks?
Settle: I think it would be good for a guy to play three or four years and not have to replace a guy every year. I understand the world we live in nowadays and a lot of young men have been told when the opportunity comes, they should take it because of the risk of injury in this game. I am hoping that we have him another year or two. Who knows, but we haven't talked about that yet. If he interested, we'll do all the things we can to find out his draft status, but we're focused on trying to win 10 games.