For now, walk-on Stave UW’s No. 1 quarterback
MADISON The battle to open the season as Wisconsin’s No. 1 quarterback won’t begin in earnest until the summer, when transfer Danny O’Brien arrives from Maryland.
Nevertheless, the 2012 spring game on Saturday reaffirmed that walk-on Joel Stave is No. 1 for now, followed by Joe Brennan.
“Joel just continues to impress me,” UW coach Bret Bielema said after the standout from Whitnall High School directed two touchdown drives to lead the Cardinal to a 21-10 victory over the White at Camp Randall Stadium. “Just his maturity, the way he handles it.”
Stave, who will be a redshirt freshman next season, completed 14 of 25 passes (56.0 percent) for 135 yards and a touchdown. That was a 7-yard strike to wide receiver Chase Hammond on third and goal.
His lone blemish was an ugly interception inside the White 10. Stave tried to force the ball to Hammond, but reserve cornerback Darius Feaster made an easy interception
“That was a bad decision,” Stave said.
Brennan, who played in six games as a redshirt freshman last season, completed 2 of 11 passes for 24 yards.
Brennan had the tougher assignment working with the reserves but he wasn’t able to generate a first down in two second-half series with the starters.
“Joey has definitely had some flashes this spring that looked good,” Bielema said. “And then some other days where it doesn’t look good.”
A look at the rest of the team:
-- Offensive line: Three of the starting spots appear set - Ricky Wagner at left tackle, Ryan Groy at left guard and Travis Frederick at center. Casey Dehn, who returned to the program in the winter, appears to be a lock to start somewhere. He worked as the No. 1 right tackle with Rob Havenstein (shoulder) out all spring.
But when Havenstein returns in camp Dehn (6-foot-6, 334 pounds) might be the best option at right guard.
If the staff keeps Dehn at tackle, the candidates to start at right guard appear to be Dallas Lewallen, who missed all of spring recovering from knee surgery; Kyle Costigan, who switched from defensive tackle; and walk-on Robert Burge.
Zac Matthias could challenge—if his back holds up.
-- Running back: Depth, depth and more depth.
Montee Ball doesn’t know the meaning of the word complacency and has become a father figure to the other tailbacks.
James White appears more decisive running between the tackles than last season. Melvin Gordon, practicing with more focus than last fall, is a star in waiting, and Jeff Lewis is a solid option.
-- Wide receiver: First-year receivers coach Zach Azzanni is going to earn his salary. Outside of Jeff Duckworth and Jared Abbrederis, who sat out all spring while recovering from a foot injury, Azzanni has untested talent.
The physical tools are obvious, particularly in players bigger receivers like Hammond, who had four catches for 48 yards and a touchdown in the spring game, and Marquis Mason, who had two critical drops Saturday.
However, all the young receivers are still learning what it takes to make plays consistently and not just here and there.
Isaiah Williams had five catches for 53 yards Saturday and appears to be the third-best prospect at this point.
Tight end: Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wozniak, who is recovering from groin surgery, will be redshirt juniors in the fall. They are the elder statesmen of the unit.
Like the wide receiver unit, physical talent isn’t the issue. Experience, or lack of it, is.
Austin Traylor and Austin Maly, who will be redshirt freshmen in the fall, are talented receiving threats. But the best young player in the unit is Sam Arneson, who played as a freshman last season.
Arneson has become an effective blocker and is a dangerous receiver. He has the potential to be outstanding.
-- Defensive line: Line coach Charlie Partridge has three experienced tackles in Beau Allen, Ethan Hemer and Jordan Kohout.
Allen looks poised to make more plays in the backfield this season and the move of Warren Herring from end to tackle could provide another playmaker in the long run. The migraines that troubled Kohout in the spring could be an issue, however.
Ends Brendan Kelly and Pat Muldoon are solid, but this unit needs a playmaker coming off the edge.
David Gilbert (foot) has to stay healthy in 2012 to provide that threat, in part because reserve ends Tyler Dippel and Konrad Zagzebski continued to be slowed by injuries.
-- Linebacker: Even with weak-side linebacker Mike Taylor (hip) and strong-side linebacker Ethan Armstrong (hip) out all spring, UW had plenty of bodies to keep the defense performing at an above-average level.
Taylor should return to his No. 1 spot in camp ahead of Derek Landisch, who stayed on the field in the spring despite suffering a broken right hand. Coaches love that dedication.
Armstrong, who started two games last season, will have a difficult task in beating out A.J. Fenton for a starting spot.
Conor O’Neill could be the odd man out on the strong side but he could see time in sub packages.
With starting middle linebacker Chris Borland (hamstring) limited in the spring, Marcus Trotter and Derek Watt got plenty of work.
The drop-off from Borland to the reserves remains significant.
Reserve weak-side linebacker Jake Keefer is better suited to play in the middle, but he had six tackles Saturday in perhaps his best showing of the spring.
-- Secondary: If cornerback Devin Smith (foot, groin) is healthy for camp, he will join Marcus Cromartie and Peniel Jean to give UW three solid options at the position. Darius Hillary, who redshirted last season, is a promising prospect and the fourth cornerback.
Questions persist at safety with Aaron Henry gone. Shelton Johnson appears entrenched at strong safety but Dezmen Southward continues to make too many mental mistakes at free safety.
-- Specialists: Drew Meyer, a walk-on from Arrowhead High School, averaged 35.9 yards on eight punts Saturday. He has a strong leg but is inconsistent. Kyle French, from Menomonee Falls High School, made 8 of 10 field-goal attempts in the rapid-fire drill Saturday.