Wisconsin's Clement taking 'baby steps,' might return this week

Genaro C. Armas
Associated Press
Corey Clement

Madison, Wis. — Wisconsin running back Corey Clement's body is healing about three weeks after sports hernia surgery.

His confidence needs a little work, too.

The Badgers (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) aren't rushing him, though his physical recovery seems to be ahead of schedule. The junior figured to take over the starting job this year at a program known as a running back assembly line, but he hasn't played since the opener against Alabama.

Clement has returned to practice. There is no timeline, other than that he appears to be inching closer.

Maybe this weekend at Illinois?

"Yeah it's still uncertain," Clement said. "I'm not really pressing anything, saying I'm going to play or not. I mean, that can only be determined when I wake up Saturday morning."

It looked as if he was ready to go last week after appearing to be a full participant in warmups before the 24-7 victory over Purdue. Clement even led the charge out of the tunnel, a scene captured on the Camp Randall Stadium video board that heightened interest about whether he would play.

Wisconsin's traditionally strong rushing attack has been slowed this year by Clement's absence, along with injuries and a lack of cohesion on the offensive line.

Dare Ogunbowale started at tailback against the Boilermakers, but there was Clement looking eager as he followed coaches up and down the sideline during the first half. It looked as if he was waiting for coach Paul Chryst to point to him to get in the game.

But this was Clement's call about whether he was ready. By halftime, he had a conversation with position coach John Settle.

"Kind of let the first half slip away, wanted to watch. … I think I was a little too hesitant to get back out there," Clement said on Tuesday after practice.

Getting back into a game would have to wait at least another week.

"Kind of iffy, but as I went back in the locker room, gave myself a little pep talk, talked to the coaching staff. I was trying to give it a go, but me and Coach Settle exchanged words, and (he) said 'We really don't need you at this point,'" Clement said. "Why not just watch the rest of the game and heal up for the next week if you're coming back?'"

Clement was hurt in practice the week before the Alabama game. He had eight carries for 16 yards in limited action in the 35-17 loss to the Crimson Tide.

At first, Clement thought it was a groin injury. He tried to practice through the pain, but never felt good enough to play.

Finally, about a month ago, Clement said he came forward to medical staff and shared more details about he felt. It was determined that Clement needed hernia surgery.

This is not the way that he envisioned this season would go after running for 949 yards and nine touchdowns on 147 carries in 2014, serving as the understudy to Heisman Trophy runner-up Melvin Gordon.

Clement concentrated this offseason on getting into better shape to withstand the pounding he would take from more carries.

"His body was ready to take a pounding," Settle said. "For him to have a setback, it's a tough pill for him to swallow. He was looking forward to being the guy."

Clement is getting back into shape, though Settle said that "you can tell he's rusty. … Everything is like baby steps."

Endurance is an issue, according to Clement. Still, he doesn't believe that he can have a setback now that he knows the extent of the problem.

"There is still no (guarantee) on the timetable or how it goes," Chryst said. "We've just got to keep taking it day-by-day and helping him through it."