MADISON - One of the first order of businesses in the spring for Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst was to name fifth-year senior Joel Stave the starter for the season opener against No. 3 Alabama. That announcement inevitably took away most of the drama from fall camp, as quarterback battle had been a common theme the last couple of seasons.
But even with Stave getting his timing down with his wide receivers and tight ends for the coming season, Chryst is still responsible in trying to find a capable backup, a process that is ongoing between redshirt junior Bart Houston and redshirt freshman D.J. Gillins.
“I see D.J. comes and does and I see things that Bart does and I think it’s real,” said offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph. “They are different. It’s funny. They complement each other and each have different strengths. I am waiting for that guy to just emerge as that player who is going to push it a little bit more.”
Although Gillins is on his second head coach and second offensive coordinator as he enters his second year, his confidence hasn’t faltered, especially since he feels more confident then where he was last year under Gary Andersen.
“He just wants me to play like myself when I was in high school,” Gillins said of a conversation between himself and Chryst. “He just wants me to be comfortable and just show what I can on the football field and I think I’ve done that.”
Admitting the playbook is more complex difficult than the one he had to learn under offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, comparing it to learning a second language, Gillins has been getting tutelage from the coaching staff to learn the system at a comfortable pace.
“Some of the plays are a paragraph long, and we have to see the signal from the sideline,” Gillins said. “Doing that has been somewhat of a struggle but Paul Chryst has been helping me throughout the process get more familiar with the offense.”
While his consistency and arm accuracy has dramatically improved, the biggest challenge to the dual-threat Gillins is getting comfortable in the pocket instead of tucking the ball and running for yards.
“It is a mental thing and being patient,” Gillins said. “I did well at the beginning of camp but I struggled for a few days with it last week. I finally picked it up the last couple of practices and hopefully I stay consistent for the rest of fall camp.”