Throughout 7-on-7 drills during Tuesday's only practice, each quarterback was given six reps with the offense and each appeared to bring something different to the table.
After finishing Monday's morning practice strong, Stave looked crisp competing without a pass rush. Starting with three straight checkdown passes, Stave zipped a pass to Brock DeCicco that snuck between Peniel Jean and Ethan Armstrong and lofted a perfect sideline pass to Montee Ball out of the backfield for a 30-plus yard gain. Stave did misfire on 3-yard out after he rushed his throw, but his throws to Ball and DeCicco show his potential and his growth.
Watching Phillips, it's easy to see he's the veteran of the group despite playing in only five games in his five seasons on campus. While younger quarterbacks lack patience, Phillips allows the play to develop, which was evident by the way he connected with Jared Abbrederis throughout the drill. Phillips also was crisp with his timing, hitting true freshman Reggie Love the second he broke his route and slanted to the inside. His leg strength isn't always there, but Phillips looks more polished as a passer than he has in his UW career.
Of the three, O'Brien appears to be the most consistent and on target. His back-shoulder throw to Abbrederis along the sidelines was impressive and reminds me of the way Scott Tolzien used to throw the ball to specific points, allowing only his receiver to catch it. O'Brien is smooth with his checkdown throws, allowing his running backs time to turn their heads and get up field. O'Brien also is smart with the coverage. On one play, O'Brien watched the eyes of Nick Hill. When Hill chose incorrectly to cover the receiver in the flat, O'Brien hit Abbrederis on an inside slant for a sizeable gain.
I still believe O'Brien will be the starter, but all three quarterbacks showed unique characteristics that make them worthy of being contributors.
Move the ball … or lack thereof
If Tuesday's drill was any inclination of what Wisconsin's defense is going to be this year, fans should be excited at the prospects. Wisconsin returns depth, starters and experience at virtually every position on the first team, and flexed those muscles.
Three straight run plays went for three yards or less and those were followed by Ethan Hemer breaking through the first-team offense line, sending Joel Stave scrambling out of the pocket to save his life. It wasn't until the fifth play that Wisconsin got any offensive play that went for five yards or more.
Even when the Badgers did put a play together, Wisconsin's defense made up for it. After getting screamed at by defensive coordinator Chris Ash for a wrong decision just plays earlier, sophomore cornerback Devin Gaulden closed quickly on a receiver and laid a thunderous hit that jarred the ball loose for a recovery by the defense.
While secondary coach Ben Strickland congratulated Gaulden, Bielema chastised the offense for lack of ball security. It was the second time in a 15-minute span that Bielema had to harp at his team, doing it on the first-team offense and defense's previous series when they failed to jog off the field.
Although Bielema instructed the defense not to take anybody to the ground, it was obvious that O'Brien had a good command of the offense. On his first three plays (second-and-5, third-and-2 and third-and-7), O'Brien moved the chains with a combination of throws and inside handoffs, showing full capability with the playbook.
Stave and Phillips also threw some nice passes, including one by Phillips to a wide-open Abbrederis for a 30-yard gain after the junior got a step on his defender, but O'Brien was the most consistent knowing where the chains were and possessing the ball.
When the team unleashed the two-minute drill before the conclusion of practice, redshirt freshman Michael Caputo continued flashing his playmaking abilities, jumping a Curt Phillips route to make his second turnover in as many days.
Other than a 17-yard strike to Manasseh Garner on the drive's first play and an 8-yard completion to A.J. Jordan on the second play of the drive, Stave (working with the No.2 offense) failed to move his offense deep into the No. 1 defense's territory.
O'Brien also worked with the second-team offense and led the Badgers near midfield, but a deep route was overthrown and Ethan Armstrong third-down sack restarted the drill.
Following UW's fifth practice of fall camp last Friday, Bielema listed off a host of names – Kenzel Doe, Darius Hillary and James White to name a few - he's currently testing as potential kick and punt return compliments or replacements for Abbrederis.
It may seem like a questionable coaching decision on the surface. After all, Abbrederis led the Big Ten averaging 15.8 yards per punt return (20 attempts) with one touchdown and averaged 24.6 yards per return during his 28 kickoff returns a season ago (sixth best in the Big Ten).
Only White had any significant experience returning kicks in his career (32 returns for 20.1-yard average). Doe was recruited as a return specialist but only returned three kickoffs and one punt last year.
On Tuesday, both White and Abbrederis were the primary returners on kickoff coverage. While Abbrederis will likely maintain his punt return position, don't be surprised if the Badgers take him off kick return with a combination of Doe and White to keep Abbrederis fresh for the offense.
Love for Landisch
With the Badgers limiting the repetitions that senior Mike Taylor receives because of experience and past injuries, sophomore Derek Landisch has been the benefactor and has succeeded in that opportunity. Working with the first-team defense, Landisch is explosive and talented. It's easy to see why him and Chris Borland are compared. Both are smaller-sized backers that wore the same number in high school, but play with an aggressiveness and relentlessness to them. Landisch will be involved in some capacity this year (likely special teams) because he's too good to keep on the sidelines.
Extra Points: Junior defensive tackle Beau Allen returned to practice after missing time with a sprained ankle … Junior defensive end Tyler Dippel was spotted wearing a walking boot on his right leg … After practicing just once on Tuesday, the Badgers will go through two practices Wednesday with the morning session being open to the media … Players tweeted following practice that senior right guard Robby Burge and junior linebacker Ethan Armstrong were put on scholarship.