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Badgers’ dual-threat QB uses footwork to make plays

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Jeff Potrykus
August 30, 2011
— Russell Wilson’s footwork is sure to force defensive coordinators to put in overtime preparing for Wisconsin’s offense.

In three seasons as a starter at North Carolina State, Wilson rushed for 1,089 yards and 17 touchdowns.


He rushed for a personal-best 91 yards against Pittsburgh in 2009 and rushed for three touchdowns against Florida State last season.


“He jukes you out more than any Wisconsin quarterback that I’ve been around,” said UW sophomore linebacker Chris Borland, who saw Wilson’s running ability during preseason camp. “It’s a little change of pace.”


Wilson acknowledges his obvious ability as a runner but wants all to know he is a passer first, either from the pocket or on the move.


“I make more plays throwing the ball,” said Wilson, set to make his UW debut Thursday night against visiting Nevada-Las Vegas. “The main thing with moving out of the pocket is to keep your eyes downfield, know where guys are going to be and play smart.”


The numbers illustrate that Wilson is a passing quarterback.


He threw for 8,545 yards for the Wolfpack, the No. 3 mark in school history, and 76 touchdowns, the No. 2 mark.


The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Wilson possesses many qualities essential for a quarterback.


He is bright, appears to make sound decisions, can zip the ball into small windows, knows when touch is needed, carries out play-fakes consistently well and is adept at extending plays with his feet and then delivering the ball to a receiver who came free late.


The last quality might prove to be the most troublesome for UW’s opponents.


If you’ve seen highlight clips from North Carolina State or watched Wilson during preseason camp this month you’ve seen the same play over and over.


Wilson can move to his right or left when flushed out of the pocket, press the line of scrimmage until a receiver works free and then fire a dart of just about any distance.


“My ability to throw on the run comes from throwing with my dad and my brother every day when I was little,” Wilson said, adding that making off-balance throws as a second baseman on the baseball diamond helps, too. “Playing middle infield you have to be able to move your feet well and still make throws.”


One particular play Wilson made in camp stands out from a series of practices that follow the same script day after day.


Flushed to his left near his goal line, Wilson bought time for his receivers and then stepped into the throw and delivered a strike of nearly 60 yards to Jeff Duckworth for a completion.


Reporters watching practice that night were stunned.


“He does a great job when he comes out of the pocket of keeping his eyes downfield and not necessarily looking to run right away,” said senior wide receiver Nick Toon, who appeared to get comfortable with Wilson despite missing a week of camp. “He will run and he can run, but he looks downfield to see if there is an opportunity to throw. ... That can create some really big plays.


“Obviously as a receiver you’ve just got to stay alert.”


Defenders won’t have the luxury of relaxing if Wilson is given time to scan the field.


Linemen will have to maintain their rush lanes and try to keep Wilson hemmed in.


Linebackers will have to stay disciplined in their drops because he could throw or run.


Defensive backs will have to work harder to stay with their receivers.


“It’s hard on everybody, the defensive line especially,” Borland said. “When a guy can buy time the running lanes get bigger if he wants to tuck it. Also the linebackers are still in their drops. That is a dangerous asset for the offense.”


UW coach Bret Bielema dealt with such players when he was the co-defensive coordinator at Kansas State and later as UW’s defensive coordinator.


“The difficult thing about defending (him) in my opinion … you’ve got running quarterbacks and those guys are always (tough),” Bielema said. “But the quarterback in our system that has the ability to escape and make something happen, that’s when he is really dangerous.”


“You have to come with a scheme to spy somebody or make sure you contain him.”



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