Spring Position Preview: Quarterbacks

Needing to replace Russell Wilson under center, last season's Big Ten quarterback of the year sees a lot of potential in his replacements. Question is whether Wisconsin's only two 100 percent healthy quarterbacks will be able to step up to the plate and take over for RussellMania.

MADISON - As he finished up his interview following Wisconsin's Pro Day, former Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson was asked point blank what the next Badgers quarterback will need to do in order to have a fraction of the success he had in his one and only season with the program.

The answer was simple: confidence from within.

"Whoever the quarterback is has got to be a great leader," said Wilson. "He has to step in the huddle with confidence every single opportunity he gets."

That confidence came over time for Wilson – a four-year starter in two BCS conferences. Time right now is a luxury for the University of Wisconsin, which has a little over five months until the 2012 season opener against Northern Iowa, but the one luxury the Badgers don't have at the quarterback position is experience.

It's been a rite of spring that the Badgers are in search of a quarterback – three of the past four years UW has gone into camp with a question mark under center – but the pickings are especially slim this year with its two most seasoned quarterbacks facing serious injuries and the only two healthy bodies under center having virtually no experience.

Of the healthy two, redshirt sophomore Joe Brennan has the most experience, albeit it limited experience. He played in six games last year in mop up duty after Wilson and the first team offense built a sizeable lead. As the backup, Brennan looked lost at points and seldom got fans excited about his prognosis.

After a woeful 2010 spring game, Brennan completed 6 of 15 passes for 38 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. Entering his third season, fans are still waiting if Brennan is going to show up to be the guy.

"Joey Brennan has a lot of talent and loves the game of football, which is what you have to have at the quarterback position in order to be great," said Wilson. "He definitely has that desire to win and compete every day. He's young but he's got a lot of talent I believe."

Although it's not to the hype of New York Jets backup Tim Tebow, many fans will clamor for Joel Stave to get an opportunity if Brennan struggles, especially since UW coach Bret Bielema has been touting Stave and his expertise since last spring.

Stave was the most impressive quarterback during last year's spring game and spent his redshirt season leaving the details of the pro-style offense. As a high school senior, Stave threw for 2,635 yards and 22 touchdowns and ran for an additional seven touchdowns, numbers that validate his abilities. He also has been lauded for his smarts, which is essential at the quarterback position.

"Joel Stave has a brilliant mind," said Wilson. "He's really, really smart and makes smart decisions. He works extremely hard. He's one of the first ones in the meeting room and on the practice field all the time."

Both Brennan and Stave acknowledged there will be a quarterback battle in the fall, but the main concern right now is learning new offensive coordinator Matt Canada's offensive philosophies. Being the only two healthy throwers in camp, both Brennan and Stave are getting the majority of the reps in live action, and have evidently impressed in two early practices with their post-snap reads and reactions.

"Both of them have been outstanding," Bielema said. "I believe we're looking at over a 70-percent completion percentage through two practices, which we've never been at that level with those kind of quarterbacks at this point through two practices. So it's been pretty amazing to me."

In addition to Brennan and Stave, senior Curt Phillips is also participating this spring, although his work is in non-contact drills as he tries to overcome the three ACL surgeries that happened during a 13-month span over his sophomore and junior seasons.

Phillips was known more for his mobility than for his arm before his injuries, but has developed himself into a pocket passer over the last two-plus years as he attempts another comeback. Phillips reports he's in good physical condition, but says he's still trying to build leg strength so he can step into his throws better. He's aiming to be cleared 100 percent physically by the summer so he can battle for the starting job in fall.

He's also unsure if he'll get a sixth year of eligibility for the NCAA, which he must apply for after the season. Unfortunately, redshirt junior quarterback Jon Budmayr is heading that way, as well.

The backup two seasons ago as a redshirt freshman, Budmayr suffered an elbow injury in fall camp that he thought would put him on the shelf for a couple weeks. In reality, it's set him back almost nine months.

Budmayr ended up having surgery on his elbow that was thought to have fixed the problem. Starting doing work again in bowl practices, Budmayr got through the first four practices before a different nerve started swelling up.

At Rose Bowl media day, the symptoms were gone and his arm returned to normal, but the problems for Budmayr were just starting again. Now Budmayr is at the Mayo Clinic to get another second opinion and hopefully get his career back on track.

"I want to get healthy and I know I can't play football when I am not healthy," Budmayr said in Los Angeles. "Functionally, there are a lot of things I can't do – everyday stuff – if I can't get this figured out. Once I can get healthy, I can start focusing on other things."

One thing is for sure, the Badgers won't have their starting quarterback named by the end of the spring game, especially not with UW still actively looking to add a transfer quarterback to help fill out the depth.

But even if UW doesn't add a remedy-made passer, the Badgers are hopeful they can develop two green QBs to the point where they could possibly lead Wisconsin to a third straight conference championship.

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