University of Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema may have jumped the gun a bit when he said there was a question whether tailback John Clay would be ready to play against Indiana on Saturday.

Bielema went for an early morning workout on Tuesday and bumped into Clay in the training room.

“My guess, by the reaction John had, he’s going to be ready to play,” Bielema said early Tuesday afternoon on the Big Ten Conference coaches’ teleconference. “He’s a guy that takes a lot of pride in playing. He was ready to play (last) Saturday.”

Clay suffered a slightly sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee while picking up a fourth-and-1 in the third quarter against Purdue. He wanted to return to the game but the coaches decided against it.

During practice on Tuesday, Clay worked out in pads on the sidelines and felt better than expected.

“Just because of how I was feeling on Sunday, it was real swollen and bruised,” he said of the caution Bielema expressed on Monday. “But (Tuesday) I did a little running around, some drills, a little cutting, a little sore still here and there but not as much pain as I thought it would be.”

Still, after making it through most of the season feeling relatively strong, Clay is cautious about coming back too soon. He might want to play, but do the Badgers need him, with freshman James White returning this week and sophomore Montee Ball coming off a career-high 127 yards against Purdue?

“I want to play but I also want to make sure I do the smart thing,” Clay said. “I just don’t want to go back out there, like I did against Iowa (last year), not 100 percent and maybe hindering my team.”

Clay was referring to the ankle injury he suffered against the Hawkeyes a year ago, when he returned to the game but probably should have remained on the sidelines.

“We don’t ever want to put someone out there unless our doctors clear him, so (Clay) has got a little bit of time to get that all worked out,” Bielema said. “I didn’t mean for it to make national news that John may not play.”

But Bielema may have tipped his hand a little earlier in the teleconference when talking about Ball.

“The thing I love is Montee knew James was getting those reps because of the production he was having on the field,” Bielema said. “He said it several times in the media, but now Montee has kind of earned his own (playing time) and probably is poised to maybe make his first start of the season this week.”

Clay also expressed confidence in the players behind him.

“I’ve got great guys backing me,” he said. “James is coming back 100 percent and Montee is still doing what he does. It may be a possibility I don’t need to (play), but I want to be out there as much as I can.”

Senior left guard John Moffitt has said all season it doesn’t make a difference to him who lines up at tailback.

“That’s what I love. I love production, just like I’m sure they love production out of us,” Moffitt said. “That’s when it makes a difference to me.”

Support system

Indiana coach Bill Lynch said junior wide receiver Damarlo Belcher, who dropped a potential game-winning TD pass in the end zone against Iowa last week, has been named one of the game captains against the Badgers.

The Hoosiers have two team captains, quarterback Ben Chappell and linebacker Tyler Replogle. Each week, the team’s Leadership Council gets together to vote on two other game captains.

“They unanimously voted Damarlo a game captain, which, to me, is a great sign,” Lynch said. “They’re telling him, they’ve got his back. That’s what makes a football team.”

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