By Chris Adamski
John Clay is thinking big.
He had better if he wants a season-long roster spot with the Steelers.
The biggest running back (not counting fullback David Johnson) the Steelers have, Clay put up big numbers (the biggest of any of the Steelers’ big stable of big-time college backs) for a Big Ten team.
But after going undrafted out of Wisconsin over the 2011 offseason, the 6-1, 248-pound Clay was a practice squad player much of his rookie season. He finally got onto the field for the final two regular-season games and the playoff loss at Denver, totalling 11 carries for 42 yards and a 10-yard touchdown the first time he touched the ball in an NFL game.
“When I did get a chance, I was able to prove something to (team management), so now this upcoming season I can’t be satisfied with what I did last year,” Clay said. “I’ve just go to build it up form there, and the sky’s the limit.”
The Steelers have a stable of running backs who were featured backs at some of big-name college programs in the country — Florida (Chris Rainey), Illinois (Rashard Mendenhall), Georgia Tech (Jonathan Dwyer), Texas Tech (Baron Batch) and Wisconsin (Clay). All rank among their school’s career rushing leaders.
Clay is seventh Badgers history in rushing yards (3,413 ) and fifth in rushing touchdowns (41) and 100-yard rushing games (18). But a slow 40 time and some history of leg injuries left him undrafted.
Among the Steelers crowded backfield this camp — albeit one that has an extra opening due to the PUP list status of starter Mendenhall — Clay has to do something to distinguish himself.
That’s where the “big” comes in.
“I’m a big back, so I know no one person should be able to tackle me,” Clay said. “That’s my mindset, that’s what (Redman) taught in me.”
Defensive teammates sometimes are overheard marvelling at trying to bring down the big back during full-pads drills. Coach Mike Tomlin also is taking notice.
It was not a surprise that Clay was given plenty of opportunities during short-yardage and goal-line work during practices late this week.
“He’s playing to his size, which is good,” Tomlin said. “It’s one thing to be a big back — it’s another thing to play with that demeanor. Not only in the goal line, but I thought he did a good job in short yardage and other areas as well.”
Other news and notes from Sunday’s practice, which was moved from St. Vincent College in Latrobe to the team’s indoor facility on the South Side because of the rain.
**Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did not practice due to an ankle injury he sustained when his foot got stepped on late during Saturday’s practice. Roethlisberger downplayed the significance of it and said he would return to practice Tuesday. The team is off Monday.
**Late in the practice, a thunderstorm rolled through, knocking out the lighting inside the facility for about a dozen minutes.
**Rookie Mike Adams continues to run with the first team offense at left tackle.
**Cornerback Curtis Brown was not able to finish practice due to knee soreness.
**Punter Jeremy Kapinos again was not at practice. “He’s experiencing some back discomfort,” Tomlin said. “I characterize him as week to week at this point.”