On one of the first plays during Friday's 7-on-7 drill, linebacker Ethan Armstrong jumped a sideline throw and returned it to the end zone for a touchdown. It was significant because that was O'Brien's first interception he's thrown since camp opened.
"I told him we aren't friends anymore," said O'Brien, who estimates he had thrown 300 passes before entering the morning practice. "It was a good play by him."
While he hasn't officially been named the starter, O'Brien has worked with the first-team offense more than anybody else throughout camp, and his consistency is a big reason why.
Quarterbacking Wisconsin to its third straight 10-win season and another conference championship last season, Russell Wilson set new school records for career completion percentage (min. 300 att.) at .728 and career pass efficiency (min. 300 att.) at 191.8.
Wilson took those records away from Scott Tolzien, as Tolzien's 2010 season completion percentage of .729 (min. 100 attempts) and efficiency mark of 165.8 (min. 200 attempts) were tops before RussellMania.
"Whenever you take shots down the field, they have to be calculated risks," said O'Brien. "They have to be good looks and good matchups. I think we've done a good job of that and we've hit more ‘go' routes as the weeks have gone on. But whenever you have an option that is open that is going to move the chains, I think you have to take it, especially with this offense. If we get a couple first downs, we're going to tire the defense out."
O'Brien's comfort level from week one to week two is noticeable. In addition to his throws being generally on target, he's appeared sharper with his progression, bettered his chemistry with junior Jared Abbrederis and his awareness on the field has been a huge benefit during situational drills.
"It's getting into the grind and where players start to separate themselves a little bit," O'Brien said of the second week at camp. "We're not installing as much new stuff, just some wrinkles here and there, but I got better as the week went on. We put in some protection checks that I felt comfortable with. The chemistry is getting better."
Ball Ready to Go
Two weeks after he was the victim of a late night attack on the streets of Madison, senior tailback Montee Ball continues to go through Wisconsin football practice in a green ‘no contact' jersey and hasn't participated in any team drills. Both of those things are just making him hungrier to play.
"With the competitive nature I have, it's difficult standing on the sidelines when you are seeing everybody out there competing," said Ball. "On the other hand, it's the smart thing to do."
Don't think for a second Ball isn't competing. Continuing what he did in spring, Ball is going through all positional drills with his running back teammates and taking reps in some 7-on-7 drills, including making a leaping touchdown catch earlier in the week.
"Coming into practice, I make sure I attack individual drills to stay on top of my craft and my cuts," said Ball. "I feel fine. I feel faster than I did last year with my routes, so I am really looking forward to getting back to full go because I'll be able to show a little bit."
That likely won't be until the middle of next week for Ball. Not expected to participate in Saturday's intra-squad scrimmage, Bielema doesn't want to subject Ball to any more hits than he needs, especially after carrying the ball 307 times last season and expected to be a heavy factor in UW's offense once again.
Without having been tackling since the Rose Bowl, Ball says getting back into football shape, for him, will take three or four days.
"Being the veteran, it'll take me a couple days and I'll be right back at it," said Ball.
Move the ball
With O'Brien working with the first-team offense and starting at the defense's 43-yard line, and rollout to the right and a James White short run stuck the offense in a third-and-8. That's where O'Brien showed his strength, as he stood in the pocket and connected with Jordan Fredrick for a 15-yard gain down to the 26 and a first down.
Senior safety Shelton Johnson read run and filled the running lane, stopping Melvin Gordon after only three yards on first down and Beau Allen got the better of Travis Frederick to stop White after only one yard on second down. O'Brien responded by hitting Jacob Pedersen in the flat for another third-down conversion to the 13.
"The two big things in this (QB) race are turnovers and converting on third downs," said O'Brien. "I've prided myself on this camp of not turning it over. You don't necessarily focus on not turning it over, but you go through your reads instinctively, take care of the ball and get rid of the ball when you are supposed to."
Gordon unleashed a strong block to allow White to go for 5 yards to the eight, but pressure from the interior halted the drive with a one-yard loss up the middle and Brendan Kelly got the better of Ricky Wagner for a third-down sack with O'Brien in the shotgun.
O'Brien took another drive, this time with the second-team offense, at the 18-yard line. A run up the middle by Jeff Lewis and a toss right to Vonte Jackson put the offense in a third-and-5. O'Brien had good protection to start, but good coverage downfield, a slowly collapsing pocket and holding on to the ball a touch too long led to a red zone sack.
"The defense is throwing a lot of blitz looks at us, which is good for us," said O'Brien. "We've gotten better as the week has gone on. It's funny but as you get two weeks in, you get to know each other more and it's tougher to move the ball on a defense."
Joel Stave didn't fare much better in his turn with the number two offense. He started auspiciously after fumbling his first center-quarterback exchange with Dan Voltz, but responded with a solid third-and-7 pass to tight end Brock DeCicco for a first down on the 26.
Chase Hammond made a sideline completion for seven yards on first-and-10 from the 26, but Conor O'Neill knifed into the backfield for a one-yard loss, creating a third and four from the 20, and Warren Herring ended the drive by tackling Lewis for no gain.
Curt Phillips switched with O'Brien to work with the first-team offense starting from the 39-yard line and gambled on his second play from scrimmage. Seeing Abbrederis locked with Devin Smith in one-on-one coverage, Phillips went for Abbrederis on a ‘go' route in the end zone. Abbrederis got a small step on Smith but the pass appeared to go just past his fingertips. Kelly ended another drive with a sack on third down.
"The experience our defense has shows," said O'Brien. "The experience Devin Smith has makes the receivers better and it makes us better. Throw in Borland and Mike Taylor, that's a tough defense we're going against every day. That might be the toughest group we face this year."