Pittsburgh, PA — Wisconsin Badgers running back John Clay may have had an inkling that the Steelers would come looking for him once the NFL lockout ended. Clay had attended Wisconsin’s Pro Day and Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin was there to watch. According to Clay, Tomlin told him that the Steelers were looking for a player like him in their offensive system. Clay was the Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2009. Clay and his agent flew to Pittsburgh Tuesday, underwent a physical and then signed a contract with Pittsburgh.
According to information on the NFL Draft Combine website:
Clay possesses the size, power, burst and vision to become a quality NFL running back. Currently does not have the receiving or pass-protection abilities to contribute on third downs. Also does not have the speed and open field elusiveness to consistently make big plays at the next level. However, he’s a productive, downhill runner who breaks tackles and carries defenders for extra yards with enough speed to hit the hole and get the corner at times. Had offseason surgery on both ankles following his 1,500-yard redshirt sophomore year and was part of a three-headed monster as a junior. Clay is a Day 2 prospect.
It may be part of why Clay was overlooked in the draft and not selected by a team, which Clay admitted was disappointing to him.
At 6’1″ and 230 pounds, Clay is a formidable-sized running back. His successful career at Wisconsin, especially 2009 and 2010, showed that he is patient enough to allow blocks to develop, find a crease and move downfield. His size has also helped him deflect arm tackles and first contact, which makes him a threat if he bursts into the secondary. Clay may need work in training camp learning how to be a better blocker and feel more comfortable receiving. He had issues with fumbles in college and didn’t take many receptions.
The Steelers have some holes in their running game. Behind starter Rashard Mendenhall are mainly untested young rushers. Issac Redman did a nice job rotating into the lineup, but Jonathan Dwyer struggled. Mewelde Moore showed age and his position as a third-down back was questioned on and off again during the 2010 season. While Mendenhall had the fourth most carries in the NFL last season with 324 carries for 1,273 yards, Redman rushed for 247 yards on only 52 carries. The next highest Steelers player with rushing totals was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who rushed for 63 yards on 21 carries. Roethlisberger was flushed out of the pocket and forced to make plays with his feet many times due to a struggling and injury-prone offensive line and a lack of an outlet in his rushing corps.
Clay said that he and Tomlin had had a serious conversation during the Wisconsin Pro Day, and that Tomlin gave him the impression that the Steelers wanted him as a power back. Clay also said that Tomlin advised him to gain a bit of weight, and recommended 250. When he reports to training camp, Clay will be around 245. His off-season workouts have increased his durability as well.
“I’m joining some great players in Pittsburgh…I’m very excited,” Clay admitted.
2008 – played 13 games, started 1; 155 rushing attempts for 884 yards and nine touchdowns. His yards per attempt average was 5.7, with his longest rush at 46 yards.
2009 – played 13 games, started 8; 287 rushing attempts for 1517 yards and 18 touchdowns. His yards per attempt average was 5.3, with his longest rush at 72 yards.
2010 – played 11 games, started 9; 187 rushing attempts for 1012 yards and 14 touchdowns. His yards per attempt average was 5.4, with his longest rush at 40 yards.
Receiving (Career Totals)
11 receptions for 72 yards, no touchdowns. His yards per reception average was 6.5. His longest reception went for 11 yards.
All purpose yards (Career Totals)
3413 yards rushing, 72 receptions, no punt returns, no kickoff returns. Total yards: 3485. Average yards per game: 94.2.
VIDEO: John Clay’s press conference at the NFL Scouting Combine
VIDEO: NFL insiders discuss John Clay
RAW VIDEO: John Clay reacts to news on joining the Steelers
RAW VIDEO: John Clay’s father reacts to Steelers news
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