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April 29, 2011

Post spring camp: Quarterbacks

MADISON - Bret Bielema was blunt when he said Jon Budmayr and the rest of the Wisconsin quarterback position was "nowhere close to where they needed to be" following his teams annual spring game.

To his credit, his comments came immediately after a 10-of-23, 113-yard, one-interception performance from his No. 1 quarterback that failed to lead a touchdown drive at any point during the two-hour spring camp finale in front of 10,000 fans.

But that doesn't mean it's all doom and gloom for the quarterback position as we look forward to August's fall camp. Sure there are things that need to be fixed, and fixed quickly, but Bielema seems confident in the position moving forward, especially since some important parts, namely receiver Nick Toon, will be returning.

"I think what really affects the quarterback, and what we've had the convenience of over the last two seasons, is receivers," Bielema said. "No matter how good they are and no matter how talented they are, if they are in the same spots at the same time with the rhythm, throw and route, I think that's really going to help Jon out."

Budmayr, who completed his first spring camp as the team's bona fide No. 1 starter, had his fair share of ups and downs throughout the 15 allotted practices. He did throw interceptions and he did have balls batted down on occasion, but he also made some throws downfield that have been absent in recent seasons.

Overall, the sophomore quarterback played like one would expect for a sophomore. He was inconsistently inconsistent. And that's not even meant as a slight on the young signal caller as much as it is a valid expectation for a player really delving into a new role.

"Scotty obviously had more knowledge because he was older and he was there so he knew how to do pretty much everything," Jared Abbrederis, UW's most experienced receiver this camp, said. "So Jon is learning that. Jon is not afraid of really throwing that deep ball. He'll throw it up there every time if he has to.

"I think that's the nice thing about Jon."

It's also something that will open another avenue for offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and his dynamic offense. We already know the Badger backfield is stacked with Montee Ball, James White, Zach Brown, Jeff Lewis and soon-to-be freshman Melvin Gordon, but with a strong-armed quarterback like Budmayr, and with some blazers at wide receiver, the deep ball could really become an option this fall.

But before you salivate about the potential of deep touchdown passes on fly patterns, remember the receivers are young and inexperienced. The summer months will be vital, especially for a guy like Toon coming off injury.

"That's a big part of it," Chryst said. "I don't have any doubt that Nick will work and the quarterbacks will work with him. He knows what's at stake and he knows he's got to play his best football his senior year.

"So I don't have any doubt in my mind that he'll go about it, be prepared and get ready to go this fall."

As camp wore on, it became apparent that both Joe Brennan and Joel Stave were making progress. Like Budmayr, both Brennan and Stave weren't immune to mistakes, but it seemed as though they learned from it.

Brennan, at 6-foot-3, 200-pounds, seems to have all the physical attributes needed to succeed. He's hard on himself and wants to get better, has a strong arm and is intelligent. Though it may not be this year, he will likely contribute at some point during his career in Madison.

And though he had some rough stretches throughout spring camp - interceptions, inaccuracy and general lack of quick decision-making - Brennan will enter fall camp as a guy determined to become a better player.

"This is the first time where he's been here," Chryst said. "He hasn't been here a full year. But I think it's important to him and I think he's approaching it the right way. He just needs to keep growing and making improvements."

Stave, as a young player that could very well still be finishing up his senior year of high school, also opened eyes throughout spring camp. And by capping it off with a solid outing in front of the most faithful of the Badger faithful at the spring game, it seems as though Stave will enter fall camp very poised to make some noise.

"He has done a good job picking up enough to at least function," Chryst said. "So he does some good things and I think you can see some things where the wheels are still spinning. Fortunately a lot of times you just need to go through that. I've been pleased with the way the group is working.

"Certainly we're nowhere near the execution we want, but I think that's part of the process."

One of the most major concerns, outside of general youth and inexperience, is depth. With Curt Phillips slated to miss the entirety of the 2011 season, there really is no depth at the position. Should Budmayr, or any of the other two quarterbacks, get injured during the season, UW might be in for an interesting ride.

Hopefully it won't come to that.


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