Wisconsin Badgers quarterback job still up for grabs
MADISON—After the first week of preseason camp the race to be Wisconsin’s starting quarterback hasn’t changed dramatically since the spring.
Sixth-year senior Curt Phillips and redshirt sophomore Joel Stave shared the bulk of the workload with the No. 1 offense and generally played to their respective strengths.
Junior-college transfer Tanner McEvoy, who arrived at UW in June and acknowledged before camp opened he had a significant amount of ground to make up to win the starting job, remains in catch-up mode.
After an off-day Sunday, UW is scheduled to practice twice today. The second session, set to begin at 3:40 p.m., is a scrimmage open to the public.
How the quarterbacks perform in that session—as well as during a scrimmage scheduled for Aug. 19—should determine who opens the season as the starter.
“We’re not going to tackle the quarterback on Monday,” head coach Gary Andersen said, “but we’re going to buzz the quarterback pretty tight just to see how we can truly react to the pressure and the ability to get out of things and the ability to make those decisions.
Andersen wants to see which quarterback makes the offense hum.
“When you get into the team setting and it is first-and-10 at the 40-yard line and you’re moving the ball down the field … can the team go score?” he asked. “Ultimately that is the bottom line at the quarterback position.
“There is a lot of things that go into that. There are 10 other guys. But he’s got to be able to have his unit be productive around him.
“Those scrimmages will be a big part of that.”
Phillips, another season removed from the knee injuries that cost him the 2010 and ’11 seasons, appears to be moving more fluidly and throwing the ball more effectively.
He can spread the ball around on the perimeter, which is something Andersen wants in an effort to stretch defenses from sideline to sideline.
Phillips remains mobile enough to avoid defenders and get outside the pocket to pick up a few yards with his feet or find open receivers down the field.
He doesn’t throw an accurate deep ball, however, which has always been an issue.
“I think there is a lot I can improve on,” Phillips said when asked to assess his first week. “But at the same time I think I have been consistent.
“I think I haven’t made many mistakes. I’ve been playing smart. That is big for me.”
During the first week of camp Phillips consistently threw the ball away if he could not find an open receiver.
“I am not going to force a ball,” he said. “I want to be smart, especially in the red zone. When you are down there, it is touchdown, check-down and if it’s not there get it out.
“I love throwing touchdowns, but at the same time we want the points.”
Stave remains comfortable in the pocket and can use his feet to pick up a few yards if he has a clear lane.
“That is something I feel I can do,” he said. “Get a few yards here and there, slide or get out of bounds or whatever you have to do.”
Stave last season generally underthrew his receivers on deep routes but was more accurate on those throws in the first week of camp.
He remains effective on intermediate routes as well but becomes less effective when he is flushed out of the pocket.
“I wouldn’t say that necessarily,” he said when asked about his ability to make plays on the run. “I’ve thrown the ball pretty well on the run this camp. It is just a matter of doing it every time. …
“I think I’ve done OK overall. It obviously has been up and down. That’s how football is. It is just a matter of turning the negative plays and turning them into positives, trying to learn what you screwed up. And then don’t make the same mistake.”
McEvoy, listed at 6-foot-6 and 223 pounds, has quick feet and is by far the most dangerous runner of the three starting candidates.
When McEvoy gets outside the pocket he can produce a big play with his feet, though he has yet to show the ability to extend the play and then hit an open receiver downfield.
His throwing remains erratic.
“I definitely think I’ve made progress,” he said. “Everyone wishes they could do better every day. I’ve just got to go out there and compete and limit my mental errors.
“I need to do everything right, from my steps to my form to making the play and just reading the (call) to the offense. Just do everything that comes with playing the quarterback position. Try to make plays and just not make any mistakes.”