QB battle begins Monday in Madison
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON--Curt Phillips and Joel Stave know the drill.
Wisconsin’s coaching staff will use preseason camp to choose the team’s No. 1 quarterback for the 2013 opener.
Phillips and Stave were part of a three-player battle last summer, a battle eventually won by transfer Danny O’Brien.
Phillips and Stave emerged from spring practice in April as the only legitimate contenders for the starting job, but when camp opens Monday they will be joined by junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy.
Let the best player win.
“I am excited about it,” said Phillips, who started the final five games last season. “That is the one thing…as long as you have a chance to compete going into camp it doesn’t necessarily matter how things come out in the spring.
“It is going to be a battle. But it is one I am looking forward to and excited about.”
Like Phillips, Stave wasn’t fazed to see new head coach Gary Andersen add a transfer to the mix of possible starters.
“That’s how it has been for me every year,” said Stave, noting Russell Wilson transferred from North Carolina State in 2011 before O’Brien transferred from Maryland last summer. “Everyone says competition makes people better. I don’t really care.
“I am used to it.”
Spring practice served to reaffirm the differences between Phillips, a sixth-year senior, and Stave, a redshirt sophomore who started six games last season before suffering a broken left collarbone against Michigan State.
Although increased leg strength allowed Phillips to throw the ball more effectively than he had last season, Stave still showed the stronger arm.
Phillips remains more elusive, is a tremendous leader and executed the two-minute drill masterfully three times in pressure situations last season.
Nevertheless, Phillips averaged only 77.1 passing yards per game last season. He averaged 11.7 yards per completion and 6.7 yards per attempt. Aside from a 57-yard swing pass to tailback Melvin Gordon at Penn State, Phillips’ longest completion was a 29-yarder to tight end Jacob Pedersen against Ohio State.
Phillips insists that another summer of working on his lower body will make him a better passer this season.
“I was limited physically at the beginning of the year,” said Phillips, who has undergone three significant surgeries on his right knee. “I progressed as the season went on.
“I don’t have any excuses now.”
Stave shone in the spring game by completing 15 of 20 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown — without wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, who was held out. The performance was by far Stave’s most impressive out of 15 spring practices.
“We put in so much offensively from that first day to the end, so there were some ups and downs,” Stave said, adding that facing a more complex and varied blitz scheme was equally stressful. “So there were good days when you really liked the install and things were clicking.
“Then there were days when the defense put in something new that you’ve never seen before and they start getting you.
“So it was up and down, but I feel like we learned from everything they showed us. We did a great job preparing for so many different looks.”
Stave averaged 15.8 yards per completion and 9.3 yards per attempt in eight games last season. He had 18 of UW’s 26 pass plays of 20 or more yards. That included six completions of 30 yards or more to a wide receiver.
“That is something I showed I could do last year and we were very successful with that,” Stave said. “I think that is something we can bring to the table again this year.
“When you have that threat…it really forces to play more honest. Safeties can’t come crashing down on the run.”
McEvoy, 6 feet 6 inches and 223 pounds, is the dual-threat quarterback Andersen prefers.
After transferring to Arizona Western College from South Carolina, McEvoy passed for more than 1,800 yards, with 24 touchdowns and five interceptions last season. He added 252 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
“Tanner hasn’t taken a snap in a Division I program in a year,” Andersen cautioned. “So we’ll see.”
Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig would like to choose the starter two weeks into camp. He reiterated what Andersen said, that McEvoy will be given the opportunity to win the job in camp.
“He is a tremendous athlete,” Ludwig said. “He has good arm strength. He can escape. He really can run.
“But he’s got a lot to learn and lot to catch up on. He’s got some real challenges ahead of him.”