Bielema hopes scouts judge Clay on game film
MADISON Since playing his final football game at Wisconsin, tailback John Clay did what he could to ease the concerns of National Football League scouts.
Most important, Clay weighed in at a svelte 233 pounds at UW’s pro timing day last month and lowered his time in the 40-yard dash, albeit slightly, to a range of 4.73 to 4.77 seconds.
Yet with the 2011 NFL draft set for April 28-30 it appears scouts still see more red flags than endearing traits in the fourth-year junior from Racine Park High School.
n Can Clay stay healthy? He was bothered by ankle issues at UW and missed 2½ games last season because of a knee injury.
n Can the 6-foot-1 Clay keep the weight off? He underwent surgery on both ankles after the 2009 season and his weight ballooned to more than 260 pounds.
After weighing in at 233 pounds on pro timing day, Clay told reporters he had lost more than 30 pounds since the Rose Bowl.
Remember, too, that he did extra aerobic work during preseason camp to lose weight he gained after the ankle surgeries.
“Had to be high school,” Clay said when asked if he could recall the last time he was so light. “It’s the lightest I’ve been since I came to college. I feel more explosive, faster. I got my quick muscles back and I feel real good.”
n Can Clay be an every-down back? He caught 11 passes for 72 yards in three seasons at UW and often came off the field in third-and-long situations. He struggled during pass-catching drills on pro timing day.
As a result, Clay is projected to be taken anywhere from the fifth to seventh round.
UW coach Bret Bielema, who was involved in Clay’s recruitment and thus knows his history, suggested there was one accurate way to evaluate the tailback.
“Just turn on the film and watch him,” he said.
Clay left UW with the No. 7 rushing mark in school history (3,413 yards), the No. 3 mark in yards per carry (5.43-yard average) and the No. 5 mark in rushing touchdowns (41).
His junior numbers—1,012 yards, 5.4 yards per carry and 14 touchdowns—were impressive given he wasn’t in peak physical condition or fully healthy for most of the season.
“As John has gotten older, the one thing he has realized is you’ve got to do this thing for 365 days a year,” Bielema said. “That is what being a professional athlete is about.”
In Clay’s favor is the fact he played at a high level in back-to-back victories over Ohio State and Iowa.
He rushed 21 times for 104 yards (5.0-yard average) and two touchdowns in a 31-18 victory over the Buckeyes. One week later he rushed 24 times for 91 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-30 victory over the Hawkeyes.
“When he is in the (shape) he is in right now,” Bielema said, “there’s very few backs I’ve seen be able to handle a game like he has.”
Bielema understands the intense scrutiny Clay has been under since declaring he was skipping his senior season at UW to enter the draft.
“The one thing that is unique about the NFL is once you declare yourself eligible all they want to do is decrease your value,” he said. “They don’t want to increase your value because it means they have to pay you more.”
““Kids are always trying to improve their value and improve their stock.”