Wisconsin's Clay, Iowa's Hampton tough it out

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

There are two primary concerns with Wisconsin's über-talented running back, John Clay.

1. Can he maintain a proper playing weight, ideally between 235 to 240 pounds?

2. Will his problematic ankles hold up?

The weight issue will be an ongoing challenge for Clay, who ended up north of 250 pounds toward the end of the 2008 season. But the powerful sophomore earned a few tick marks on the toughness scale after playing through an ankle injury last weekend.

During an April 4 scrimmage, Clay sustained what head coach Bret Bielema called a "double whammy" -- a low tackle that twisted his ankle and a helmet that hit him right above the joint.

"On Friday, in our staff meeting, our trainers weren't necessarily too confident that he'd be able to go on Saturday," Bielema said Tuesday. "And he made himself go and actually performed very well and lifted up the offense at certain times.

"He made a big step for us, being the kind of leader we need for him to be."

Clay currently checks in between 240 and 242 pounds, but Bielema would like to get him lighter than 240 by the season opener Sept. 5.

Iowa also dealt with an injury scare to its projected starting running back, as sophomore Jewel Hampton had a "near-miss" during Saturday's scrimmage, according to head coach Kirk Ferentz. Hampton missed the first week of spring ball with a strained hamstring and likely will sit out today's practice before returning for the Hawkeyes' final workouts later this week.

"I think he's going to be fine," Ferentz said. "He's doing a good job."

Junior Paki O'Meara, who turned heads with his performance last spring, remains the No. 2 running back on Iowa's depth chart. Redshirt freshman Jeff Brinson is the third-stringer.