Working primarily with the second-team offense against the second-team defense, Brennan was unofficially 3-for-17 for 42 yards and one interception, a performance that equaled a passer rating of 26.6. He was discouraged, his confidence took a major blow and he was heading into the offseason without any momentum.
Then, for whatever reason, the light bulb finally switched on at the beginning of fall camp. In the 14 practices that were opened to the media and with back-up quarterback Jon Budmayr sidelined with an elbow injury, Brennan stepped into the spotlight and looked renewed. His throws were crisper, his reading ability was better and, most importantly, his consistency was up and his mistakes were down.
"I think Joey Brennan, from what I saw in the spring to where we are right now, is night and day," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "This composure in the huddle, his progression and reads … Joey is a very dedicated football player."
Injuries often bring new opportunities for younger players, especially at the quarterback position over the last two years. When Curt Phillips tore his ACL prior to the start of the 2010 season, Budmayr, than a redshirt freshman, backed up fifth-year senior Scott Tolzien for the entire season.
Now with Budmayr on the shelf, Brennan, also a redshirt freshman, will back up fifth-year senior Russell Wilson for the season opener against UNLV this Thursday. Should the game get out of hand or Wilson needs to come out, Brennan will play in his first college game … and gives him a sense of excitement instead of nervousness.
"I feel ready for an opportunity that presents itself to go in and play," Brennan said. "I feel confident that I can get the job done and step in, if needed, for that role."
Confidence is a fickle state of mind for a football player, one that can be steadily built over time and taken away at a moment's notice. Brennan maintains he never lost his confidence during the rough stretches of the spring, but he needed to grow from the bumps in the road. So he improved how most young players improve, showing dedication to the film room.
"With the summer, there is a lot of time you can take advantage of," Brennan said. "Without the stress of school work, I could really key in on football. I felt there were a lot of things that I could learn from film study from the reps I received in the spring. I wanted to take advantage of that, keep my confidence and believe in my abilities."
Watching film is one thing, but doing it on the field is another. Brennan worked throughout the summer watching film and working with his teammates on his consistency, finding a comfort level within the offense and showing a better command of his huddle.
"I was very up and down in the spring," Brennan said. "I just wanted to play quarterback, make smart decisions and move the ball."
Brennan's patience has started paying off. Although he missed the occasional open wide receiver, getting upset at himself in the process, it was obvious that Brennan had done his due diligence in the film room and throwing passes on the practice field. During UW's first scrimmage, Brennan threw a touch pass just out of the defensive back's reach to receiver Connor Cummins, who went 65 yards for a touchdown down the sideline.
"He came over and ‘finally' is what he said," offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. "Those things do (matter). It's important to him, and you need to have some good things happen to you. He's his own worst critic at times. There has been enough times where he gets down on himself, and it's good to kind of reward himself. That was good to see for Joey."
Brennan will be the first to admit that he's still young and growing as a quarterback, but it's throws like the one to Cummins that give onlookers a flash of the potential Brennan's arm possess. It also gives him another dose of confidence that's unnatural for such a young player.
"I had a nice meeting with him last night and you could tell that there's a little bit of change in him personally, which is a positive thing," Bielema said. "He made the comment to me, ‘Coach, I'm ready to be the No.2 quarterback and if called upon, I'll be ready.' Just for him to say that, most kids can't fake that type of confidence."
He may get his chance to back up that statement in front of a primetime national audience Thursday.
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