Spring Football Preview: Quarterbacks

Starting on March 22, Wisconsin football starts its run to the 2012 Rose Bowl with five straight weeks of spring football. In preparation for the camp, Badger Nation breaks down the seven positions over the next seven days. Today, we examine the quarterbacks.

MADISON – After losing a two-year starting quarterback (and the most efficient QB in school history to boot) and looking to replace him with someone from a three-man group that has no starting experience and only eight games playing experience, one would not have been surprised had Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst cut the cord and did a bootleg to Texas and took the Longhorns coaching job.

Then again, after two steady years under Scott Tolzien, a change under center and the uncertainly has brought some excitement to spring football.

"I'm excited for it," Chryst said on national signing day. "I think it's going to be good because we have a good group."

The quarterback competition will not be decided in the spring, but the work that redshirt sophomore Jon Budmayr, redshirt freshman Joe Brennan and early enrollee Joel Stave bring to the table will be closely watched as the Badgers look to replace Tolzien, who went 21-5 as a starter and holds school records for career completion percentage at .681 (min. 300 att.) and career QB efficiency rating of 153.2 (min. 300 att.).

"Scott has taught all of the quarterbacks so much, from the way he prepares to the way he competes, that it's going to be a challenge to step in and fill his shoes," Budmayr said last December. "Still, this is an opportunity that I've been waiting for and I need to take advantage of it."

If Wisconsin's spring game was the opening, Budmayr would probably be the first man under center.

Overcoming shoulder injuries that took away most of his high school senior season and true freshman season, Budmayr was the No.2 quarterback last season behind Tolzien and played in three games.

Against Austin Peay, Budmayr completed six of seven pass attempts for 55 yards and led the team on three long touchdown-scoring drives over an entire half of action in his Wisconsin debut. Against Indiana, Budmayr threw his first touchdown pass, lofting a throw to Jared Abbrederis that turned into a 74-yard touchdown.

"It felt great (to) just get out there and be on the field again in a game situation," said Budmayr after the Austin Peay game. "I haven't been on the field in that situation since senior year in high school. To get out there and do well and have success, it was fun."

Although only 6-feet, Budmayr has a solid throwing arm that has gotten better over time working with Chryst on his mechanics. He's also grown mentally with the playbook, as this spring will be Budmayr's third in a Wisconsin uniform.

"Jon is so much more advanced right now," UW Coach Bret Bielema said. "This is his third spring now going through it. That's a huge benefit to come in at the time he did to where we are right now."

Behind Budmayr will be Brennan, who came to Wisconsin after passing for 1,842 yards and 18 touchdowns his senior year for Camden Catholic (NJ) High. Brennan, a three-star quarterback by Scout.com, picked UW over Miami (FL) and Stanford, his other two finalists, and spent the season learning under Tolzien.

"Scott is a guy that's a great leader," Brennan said last fall. "Before I came here, he gave me a call, giving me a heads up on what to expect and that he would be there to answer questions he has to ask. He's definitely a great leader and I feel lucky to be able to learn from Scott. He's got game experience and he's gone through a lot of adversity, which is what we do as players."

Brennan (6-foot-3, 190 pounds) has been quietly progressing under center and was brought on some of UW's later road trips so he can observe how the quarterbacks prepared for game action.

"I think (Brennan) has the chance to get a lot better," said Chryst, who recruited Brennan. "For where we are, I am exciting about the quarterback group. With Joe, I think he's an extremely talented guy that wants to be here and is eager to learn."

Enrolling this past January, the Badgers will be able to throw Whitnall quarterback Joel Stave right into the mix. Stave, who threw for 5,094 yards and 41 touchdowns and added 12 rushing touchdowns in his career, Stave turned down a full scholarship offer from Western Michigan to take a preferred walk-on at Wisconsin.

Bielema called it, "a bonus for us there at the end in the recruiting world," as Wisconsin will pay for three years of his tuition after Stave pays for the first two. Described as a quarterback who uses his natural size (6-foot-5) to throw the ball well, accurately and on target, Stave will spend the spring learning the pro-style offense after playing in a spread formation the past four years.

"I am excited that he's here … and be a part of the offseason learning," Chryst said. "In two days of camp, I obviously liked working with him and looking forward to working with him more. He's a smart kid."

Though he had a moment of glory when he scored a diving touchdown on a naked bootleg call late in the Indiana game, don't expect fifth-year senior Nate Tice to factor in the quarterback position.

The reason the quarterback race won't be decided over the next six weeks is because the Badgers are missing one of their key ingredients, as redshirt junior Curt Phillips recovers from his second ACL tear. After tearing his ACL on a scramble last spring, Phillips re-tore the ligament in the fall and has been on the mend ever since.

Phillips will not participate in any live team action in the spring, but Chryst is hopeful that he can put the quarterback through some individual and 7-on-7 drills to stay sharp while protecting the knee.

"I don't know how much I am pushing that, (but) I think that would be great for him to get some momentum," said Chryst, adding he was hesitant to push Phillips. "You go with it, you trust with the medical people and the kid. If he's cleared, we're assuming he's cleared and then we'll talk to him every day and trust him as to what he can do. He doesn't have to prove anything. I am hoping for his sake that he'll get a chance to do something in the spring."

Realistically, Chryst and the staff are targeting Phillips for fall camp, which would be nine months out from his injury. The last time, Phillips was out a little over five months before re-tearing his knee. Two seasons ago, Phillips played in five games, completing 7 of 13 passes for 65 yards and an interception. He also led the team with a career-high 92 rushing yards on four carries, including career-long 37-yard run, against Wofford, although it's unclear if Phillips has lost a step with his consecutive knee injuries.

Replacing Tolzien will be no easy task, but with plenty of spring snaps in store for Budmayr and Brennan and should Phillips be healthy in the fall, Wisconsin will have some options for the opening against UNLV Sept.3.

"I think it's completely wide open and I feel all right with it," Chryst said. "There isn't a guy back. I'll be curious to see what Joe (Brennan) will do in his first one. I think Jon (Budmayr) will make some strides. Add Curt to the mix in the fall at some point and I think I'll be energized by it."

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