March 9, 2011

Spring outlook: Quarterbacks

MADISON - When Scott Tolzien won the starting job two summers ago - over Dustin Sherer and Curt Phillips - several heads turned. How could a seemingly buried upperclassman suddenly make a run at the starting nod and what does that say about the supposed leaders atop the speculative depth chart?

Well, a 21-5 career record later, including a Big Ten title and trip to Pasadena for team's first Rose Bowl Game in over a decade, and Tolzien's rise to prominence was no longer questioned.

Now, with spring camp set to begin in just a couple of short weeks, the UW coaching staff will assuredly be looking for a similar outcome. For the first time in a little while, the Wisconsin football program will have a quarterback battle that starts in the spring and won't come to a conclusion until fall camp.

On the surface it seems as though Jon Budmayr has the inside track to win the starting job. With Phillips still recovering from his second torn ACL in as many years, it seems as though the repetitions Budmayr received a season ago will do nothing but help him come spring drills.

"This is an opportunity that I was ready for in the spring (2010)," Budmayr told BadgerBlitz.com late in fall camp. "I've just got to keep progressing and getting better each day. Like I said, I'll learn from my mistakes and learn from Scott. He's a great quarterback and great in the system. Each day I can come out here and get better and keep learning.

"I'll get that much more ready."

With an inordinate amount of blowouts a season ago, Budmayr had an opportunity to dabble with some playing time as a redshirt freshman. When Wisconsin steamrolled Indiana, his deep bomb to Jared Abbrederis - one that turned into a 70-plus-yard touchdown pass - drew a bit of criticism.

Shying away from those calling that play unsportsmanlike, it seemed as though Budmayr displayed a decent amount of arm strength and poise under pressure. In doing so, Budmayr distanced himself from a few mental lapses that were prevalent during spring camp, particularly poor decision-making in the red zone.

"There's still a lot I can learn from and I've just got to quit repeating the mistakes I've been making," Budmayr said during fall camp. "Those picks in the red zone have got to stop happening. But I'm making progress."

Again, with Phillips' unfortunate knee injury, it's more than likely Budmayr will be atop the depth chart. At this juncture, it looks as though redshirt freshman Joe Brennan, a big hurler from New Jersey, will backup the Illinois native.

Brennan, who may have the strongest arm of anybody on the roster, used the redshirt season to his advantage. But in watching a developmental practice that was open to media during bowl preparation, it became obvious Brennan still had some issues with his accuracy.

But as with most things, the more repetitions one receives the better off they'll be.

"I think coach Paul Chryst is molding me into the quarterback I want to be," Brennan said during bowl prep. "This whole year I'm just trying to take things one day at a time while trying to develop and make improvements. With this bowl prep I've had a good amount of time to get a grasp on things and things are starting to come to me a little bit easier.

"That's what's good."

At 6-foot-3, Brennan has great size for the quarterback position. He stands tall, has a strong arm and seems to be comfortable in the pocket. Like Tolzien, he's probably not going to wow you with his speed, but he seems to have the tools necessary to be a serviceable quarterback at some point during his career.

Having a chance to spend a year learning from one of the better quarterbacks UW's had can only help, too.

"He is a great role model," Brennan said. "One attribute about him that I recognize is his consistency. Each and every day he comes out and is throwing the ball right on point. Each and every time he's being a great leader. And each and every time he's making the right decision on the field. It's been great for me just to watch his daily routine.

"Someone who has understood the quarterback position as well as him, I'm truly blessed to come out here every day and watch him."

Depending on how fast Phillips heals - the junior proved to be a quick healer the first time around - it seems as though Brennan will have a stranglehold on the No. 2 quarterback spot at the start of camp.

Behind him as a returning player, assuming Phillips isn't ready to play, is Nate Tice. Though he had a moment of glory during the Indiana game when he scored a touchdown on a naked bootleg call late in the game, Tice probably won't factor into the fray at the quarterback position.

While it looked as though Tolzien was well off the pace a couple of summers ago only to make a run at it, it just seems as though Tice doesn't have a similar amount of consistency about him.

An interesting prospect to watch this spring, though, is freshman Joel Stave. Stave, a preferred walk-on in the most recent recruiting class, could have the tools to perform at a high level.

"We had Joel in camp," UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said following UW's national signing day press conference. "I think he's a good player. I had a chance to go out and see him this fall. I think he fits this place. Like all guys, I think they come in and work and have an opportunity to grow. But we're glad he's in the program. I think it's a real advantage that he's here now. I don't think I really realized that until we had Joe Brennan in last year because Jon and Curt had come in early. Then you realize that this is the start of the year.

"It used to be where fall camp kind of kicked off the start of the year, but there is a lot of learning and hopefully teaching that goes on during that time. I think it's neat for Joel to be able to come in."

As far as Drew McAdams is concerned, don't be surprised if there is a position change. He could very well stay on as an effective scout team quarterback with his speed, but to think he'll be placed as a quarterback throughout his career may be difficult to project.

PROJECTION:

Budmayr, with the amount of reps he's received in Phillips' absence, will start as the No. 1 quarterback. Though reps will be distributed fairly evenly for most of camp, it seems as though Budmayr will get more run with the No. 1 unit than any other quarterback in camp.

Looking to build off a successful season, one where the team won its first conference title in a number of years, there will be a decent amount of pressure on the quarterback position especially since it has to replace one of the most efficient players in UW history.

Look for Budmayr to rise to the occasion. Besides him, it will be interesting to see how Brennan can catapult his progress from a season ago into spring camp. He has been in the program for a full season now and if he has a solid grasp of the playbook as he claims, he can make some noise.

Finally, it will be interesting to see how Stave adjusts to the college game as one of two early enrollees in this camp. As usual with a true freshman, expectations need to be tampered. But it will be interesting to see what kind of arm strength the Whitnall (WI) native possesses as well as his decision making ability.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART:

JON BUDMAYR, R-Soph
JOE BRENNAN, R-FR
NATE TICE, SR
JOEL STAVE, FR OR DREW MCADAMS, R-FR


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