MADISON - With injuries plaguing specific positions and depth chart battles raging on the offensive line, inside linebacker and special teams, quarterback Joel Stave has become a footnote in fall camp, a place he’s not accustomed to being.
Being named the starter dating back to the beginning of spring, a title he was given because head coach Paul Chryst said he’s earned it, Stave has quietly gone about his business to prepare himself for his senior season, which has included pushing himself outside his comfort zone to stretch his limitations.
And even with the opener a little more than two weeks away, Stave still approaches practice with a calmness mirroring someone who has started 28 career games.
“The intensity picks up a little bit when you get closer and closer to week one, but I’m just trying to come out here and improve from the day before, using the same kind of mindset,” said Stave. “Coach Chryst continues to push on timing, on trust on the receivers and the passing game. That’s something we can keep getting better at and something I can keep getting better at.”
Returning to Wisconsin after a three year absence, Chryst’s big message to the quarterbacks has been “don’t be afraid to fail.” Stave tested those limits in the spring, seeing his interception totals rise as he worked on different throws and timing, but has been much cleaner through the first nine practices of camp.
During Monday morning’s workout, Stave again was on point with his play with the number one offense during the limited amount of team drills, using a combination of screen passes and throws over the middle to move the offense down the field.
“Now is the time to work things so we can get the pass game where we need it to be,” said Stave. “Coach Chryst is an easy going guy and fun to play for. He’s not a screaming in-your-face coach; he’s more relaxed and laid back. He really has a good feel for the game, how to call this offense and put guys in the right position.”
Stave lists no major concerns with the offense other than the health of players, particularly on the offensive line (more on that in a minute). His biggest goal is feeling the group has taken steps forward daily, something the group continues to accomplish.
“Some practices aren’t as good as others, but there’s a ton of learning that can be had when you don’t practice well,” said Stave. “I think we have done a good job learning from every practice and really taking advantage of every day.”
LINE DANCE CONTINUES
Injuries are bad news for one player and good news for another, opening up opportunities for a backup to get valuable reps. In case of redshirt freshman Jacob Maxwell, multiple injuries opened up a chance for the Greendale, Wis., native to get reps with the first-team offensive line at right tackle Monday.
“Coach Rudolph helped me through it today and really was a great opportunity to work with the ones,” said Maxwell, who rotated at times with redshirt junior Walker Williams. “(Coach Rudolph) totally realized it was my first time ever on the right side. That was a kind of a downfall, but I got through it and did what I had to do. I feel Coach Rudolph would be pretty proud of me.”
Maxwell is primarily the backup for senior left tackle Tyler Marz, but the Badgers’ injury bug has started to plague the offensive line. After redshirt sophomore Hayden Biegel suffered a head injury late last week, redshirt freshman Beau Benzschawel – Biegel’s main competition for the starting job – missed the morning practice with a right knee injury.
Those two join a list of over two dozen players currently missing time with injury: Jon Dietzen (right ankle), David Edwards (left ankle), T.J. Edwards (sore shoulder), Jason Erdmann (left ankle), Arrington Farrar (mono), Leon Jacobs (right toe), Jake Keefer (left hip), Caleb Kinlaw (left groin), Jeremy Patterson (right knee) and Eric Steffes (lower back).
After ankle injuries plagued him throughout fall camp last season, Maxwell got to 100 percent late last September and has been gearing up to be Marz’s replacement either this season should something happen or next season when the senior graduates.
“This whole past spring, summer and camp has been me watching Tyler,” said Maxwell. “Coach Rudolph really wants me watching Tyler and learn everything I can from him since he’s a three-year starter. You don’t get many of those at Wisconsin. He’s a great guy to watch.”
Benzschawel and Biegel are on a day-to-day basis, meaning Maxwell could be slated as the starting right tackle for the next few days. While there’s concerns outside the program if the line will be ready in time for the Sept.5 opener against Alabama, Maxwell said there is still a confidence that the unit can work through the current rough patches.
“We’re just really working hard,” said Maxwell. “Our defense throws a lot of crazy stuff at us sometimes that it gets confusing but we’re grinding through it. We’ll be where we want to be by the end of camp.”
NEWS AND NOTES
*The backup quarterback battle is still wide open but D.J. Gillins had the best throw of the day, a 50-yard catch-and-run to Austin Ramesh. The play did come with an asterisk, however, as D’Cota Dixon forgot that it was a tackle drill and failed to wrap up after the catch.
*Sojourn Shelton hasn’t registered as many interceptions as he did in spring but has performed solid throughout camp, including an athletic-looking pass breakup in team drills.
Extra Points: Junior tailback Corey Clement looked fresh in the morning, as he had a number of runs knifing through the first-team defense with a combination of speed and allusiveness … Alec James and Zander Neuville continue to be the Badgers’ top two down linemen in UW’s peso package on third down … Cornerback Natrell Jamerson and receiver Rob Wheelwright were the two main returns on kickoff coverage … Keelon Brookins and Ryan Connelly worked as first-team inside linebackers and Leo Musso worked as the first-team safety … NFL scouts from the Buccaneers, Cowboys, Falcons, Packers and Rams were spotted on the sidelines.