Fall Camp Preview: Quarterbacks

With injuries and inconsistencies under center, Wisconsin football got the top transfer quarterback on the market for the second straight season, as the Badgers are hoping junior Danny O'Brien can lead the team back to Indianapolis.

This is the first in a series of eight previews leading up to the Wisconsin football team's Aug. 6 start of practice.

July 30: Quarterbacks

July 31: Running backs

Aug 1: Receivers

Aug 2: Offensive linemen

Aug. 3: Defensive linemen

Aug. 4: Linebackers

Aug. 5: Defensive backs

Aug. 6: Specialists

Projected starter: Danny O'Brien (graduate student with two years of eligibility remaining)

Key backups: Curt Phillips (redshirt senior), Joel Stave (redshirt freshman) and Joe Brennan (redshirt sophomore)

The breakdown:

There should be no mistaking O'Brien for Russell Wilson, the N.C. State quarterback who transferred to Wisconsin and parlayed a dazzling 2011 season into a third round draft pick for him and another Rose Bowl berth for the Badgers, but there is plenty to like for Wisconsin fans.

Transferring from Maryland after having a falling out with new Terrapins coach Randy Edsall, O'Brien thrived two years in ago in the pro-style offense under then-coach Ralph Friedgen. That season, O'Brien was the ACC Rookie of the Year when he threw for 2,438 yards with 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 10 starts. He also led the Terrapins to a 9-4 record and a bowl win.

And while it'd be unfair to compare the two as players (O'Brien is more of a pocket passer than a scrambler), it's easy to see the two are very similar people, as O'Brien has been impressing coaches and teammates since he arrived on campus at the start of June.

"He's definitely shown some leadership ability, but it's been very similar to Russell," said strength coach Ben Herbert, the one coach permitted to work with the players over the summer. "A smooth transition, just wants to work with the guys. He understand, a lot like Russell did, that's the best way to get comfortable and accepted with your new teammates is to get on the ground with them and show them that you are willing to work. He likes to work. He's a good looking kid physically and seems to be outstanding mentally. He shows up day in and day out."

That's great news for the Badgers, which appeared in spring to be a quarterback away from competing for a third straight Big Ten championship and have been stricken with injuries. Heading into 2012, Wisconsin has already announced that junior quarterback Jon Budmayr (arm, hip) and incoming freshman Bart Houston (shoulder) will not play this season.

But throughout the summer, O'Brien has already started to develop chemistry with preseason Mackey Award nominee Jacob Pedersen and proven wide receiver Jared Abbrederis that will prove beneficial in the weeks and months to come.

"He's been great," said Abbrederis of O'Brien. "All the quarterbacks get along really well and have been doing well this summer, so it will hopefully be a good battle in fall camp. Everyone on the team has accepted him. I didn't think there was going to be any problems coming in with how we accepted Russell last year. We have a good group of guys around here, so it's been a good transition."

While O'Brien is the odds on favorite to win the starting job for the team's September 1 opener against Northern Iowa, the buzz from the Wisconsin camp at the Big Ten Media Days is the emergence over the summer of Phillips.

It's no secret that Phillips has suffered through a string of bad luck, tearing his ACL in spring 2010, re-tearing it the following fall and not having the second surgery take, resulting in a third ACL surgery. While he hasn't played in a game since the 2009 season, Phillips worked sparingly in the spring and has been impressing onlookers with his work in 7-on-7 summer drills.

Reports say Phillips is nearly back 100 percent, struggling now only with pivots and quick stops, and could challenge for the starting spot should something happen with O'Brien.

"I am really pulling for him in this upcoming quarterback competition that we are going to have," said senior left tackle Ricky Wagner. "He's one of the few fifth-year seniors left in my class and he's been through so much. He's such a great guy. I really want to see him push for that starting spot.

"I can't imagine being in that spot (recovering from three ACL surgeries). That's such a tough road to be on, but that's the person he is. You never see him down or pouting in the corner. He's always been upbeat."

Down the road, the Badgers are hopeful that Stave is the quarterback of the future. Even working in a new offense with new terminology, Stave appeared more instinctive and confident than he did the previous spring.

While he experienced plenty of ups and downs throughout 15 spring practices, Stave saved his best for last in UW's annual spring game, completing 14-of-25 passes for 135 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Even more important than his stats was the fact that he mixed the run and the pass, led the team on sustained drives and closed two 10-play drives with touchdowns.

"That was really nice to see," said Stave in the spring. "We're always going to run the ball here. Everyone knows that and that's what we are good at doing. It was a lot of fun to get out and do that … You have to have confidence in yourself if you want everyone else to have confidence in you. It should be a fun competition."

The 6-5, 223-pound Stave closed spring as the No.1 quarterback and is in the mix to be the backup. On the other hand, Brennan – who closed camp as the No.2 quarterback – was hardly mentioned in Chicago.

It's no secret that Brennan struggled in the spring for the second straight year and it appears unlikely he will ever get the chance to start at Wisconsin. Wilson's backup last season, Brennan felt he took steps with his decision making, calmness under pressure and overall growth, but his 2-of-11 passing performance and undisciplined play have made him an afterthought.

"I feel like I definitely did a lot better this spring overall," said Brennan following the spring game. "The spring game was definitely a frustrating day. It definitely didn't go the way I would have liked it. I definitely have to get the offense moving. You would like to have a better performance."

Having played in 22 games with 17 starts over the last two years, O'Brien's starting experience and success will give him the early advantage, rendering Stave and Phillips to battle for the backup role. Even so, the Badgers have to feel a lot better with their depth at the position heading into fall camp than they did in the spring.


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