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March 1, 2012

Spring preview: Quarterbacks



MADISON - It's becoming a recurring theme for the Wisconsin Badgers.

In three of the past four years, they have gone into spring camp with question marks at quarterback. This year is no different, and, in fact, camp looks remarkably like 2011. Following the departure of a senior starter the Badgers are low on depth at the position through both injuries and a lack of experience.

Of course, Russell Wilson changed all of that. The transfer quarterback joined the Badgers in July, won the starting job and posted a 72.8 completion percentage while leading the Badgers to a Big Ten Championship and second straight Rose Bowl berth. So no offense to Scott Tolzien, but Wilson is leaving behind much bigger shoes to fill.

But who among the returning quarterbacks is set to take charge in 2012? We'll get a good sense of where the Badger quarterbacks are at during spring camp, but it wouldn't hurt to take an early look at the potential candidates as see what the Badgers will be working with.

Jon Budmayr - RS Junior, 6-foot, 195 pounds
Career Stats: 3 GP, 8/10, 134 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT

Of the five quarterbacks on the Badgers' roster for spring camp, Jon Budmayr has the best resume. Granted, it's the definition of a small sample size, but putting all of the quarterbacks' stat lines together yields just a 55.2 completion percentage and 247 yards.

Budmayr's last game reps came in 2010 as Tolzien's backup, and he looked to be the favorite to succeed Tolzien this time last year. But then Budmayr had a disappointing spring camp, Wilson arrived on campus and Budmayr developed a nerve injury in his elbow that held him out for what turned out to be the entire season.

The main question with Budmayr is if his elbow has recovered to the point where he can win the starting job. The lack of updates on his condition throughout the season was troubling, but in January head coach Bret Bielema gave out some good news for his team.

"I talked to (Budmayr) just the other day," Bielema said in January. "He's been on a nice healing pattern. He's begun that road to recovery. When he talked to me he thought he was at about 90 percent throwing capacity."

That's good news for the Badgers, as Budmayr supposedly had a setback late in the season. But it's important to remember that another setback could crop up just as quickly as any miracle recovery did.

Curt Phillips - RS Senior, 6-foot-3, 225 pounds
Career stats: 5 GP, 7/12, 65 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Phillips is a classic example why highly touted recruits don't always pan out. Rivals rated Phillips as a four-star recruit coming out of high school in Tennessee, but his career was derailed somewhere on the way to stardom. So far in his college career, Phillips has torn his ACL twice, and suffered numerous setbacks during his attempts to return to the field.

The best-case scenario for Phillips is if he can partake in some part of spring camp, and be ready for full-time action in the fall. Bielema mentioned in January that Phillips is still working his way back after his latest injury.

"He's back home," Bielema said. "He's continuing to recover and I know Curt is very positive with his health as well."

But Phillips was touted more for his mobility than for his arm before his injuries, so it will be interesting to see if his injuries have diminished what he can do for the team when and if he's healthy.

Joe Brennan - RS Sophomore, 6-foot-3, 205 pounds
Career stats: 6 GP, 6/15, 48 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Brennan came uncomfortably close to being Wisconsin's 2011 starting quarterback for a lot of Badger fans. It's not hard to see why - if Wilson decides to attend Auburn and Budmayr still develops a nerve injury, Brennan probably catapults to the top of the depth chart as a redshirt freshman.

Instead, Brennan spent the year as Wilson's backup, which gave him several invaluable opportunities to show the Wisconsin coaching staff what he had. In the eyes of many Badger fans, Brennan didn't make the most of his time in mop-up duty. But it's important to remember that this will be just Brennan's third year in the program, and a good spring camp could solidify his status as "the guy" if the Badgers can't rely on Budmayr and Phillips.

Joel Stave - RS Freshman, 6-foot-5, 220 pounds
Career stats: Has not played.

If there is such a thing as a sleeper candidate this spring, Stave may well be it. He was able to redshirt the 2011 season despite the lack of depth at the position, and it could pay off in a big way during his second spring camp.

Stave was the most impressive of the Badger quarterbacks last year during the spring game, but it wasn't hard to outshine Budmayr and Brennan when the offense didn't score in the game. There have been whispers that if Budmayr and Phillips can't start the season it wouldn't be surprising if Stave beats out Brennan for the starting job. Since the Badgers' depth chart situation hasn't exactly improved in a year's time, Stave has time to shine after a year's worth of learning the offense.

Pre-Spring Camp Projection:

For right now, we just don't know enough about Budmayr and Phillips to say that they'll be able to participate with any amount of certainty. That could and will change as we go through spring ball, but for now I'm assuming Brennan and Stave get most of the reps.

Spring camp will certainly give us a better picture of how the quarterbacks are shaping up, and right now I wouldn't be surprised if Stave passes Brennan on the depth chart. So, as we get ready for camp I'm projecting Stave to emerge as the No. 1 option if Budmayr and Phillips are unavailable.

Note: Years and eligibility listed reflect fall of 2012. Camp is set to open on March 22.



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