Savage, Meier set for bright futures

Quarterbacks coach likes what he sees in young pupils

TAMPA, Fla. — Quarterbacks Bryan Savage and Craig Meier will not factor into Wisconsin's Outback Bowl matchup with Georgia Saturday. The true freshmen signal callers, however, will exert pressure on the Badgers' depth chart this spring.

Both Savage and Meier are redshirting this season and learning behind sophomore starter John Stocco and redshirt freshman backup Tyler Donovan.

"The good thing at least here in bowl practices," UW quarterbacks coach Jeff Horton said, "they both have to scrimmage a lot more and do some things where you can see them under fire a little bit."

"I'd like to see both those guys come into spring and really see them take another step forward and make a big push," Horton said.

Savage was one of the jewels of the Badgers' 2004 recruiting class, a highly touted high school quarterback who has an impressive combination of size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), arm strength and athleticism.

"I like Bryan's upside," Horton said. "He's a smart kid, big arm. He has to get quicker in his decision making, [he's] a little slow getting the ball out, but I think that's because he's thinking of where to go with the ball and not wanting to make a mistake. We just have to speed up that process."

Savage spent most of the year "in the depth" as the No. 3 quarterback. After fellow freshman Sean Lewis was converted from quarterback to tight end, Savage remained No. 3 on the depth chart, but supplanted Lewis on the scout team.

"I wanted to do that. He's in that bad position being the third-team guy," Horton said, "he spent the most time with me, doesn't get maybe four reps a week. Where if he's on the scout team he's not running our offense but at least he's doing something. Towards the end of the year I tried to get him more opportunity to do that."

In addition to playing quarterback, Meier (6-3, 185) was a star high school pitcher at Madison Edgewood before walking on at Wisconsin. In practice at least, he throws a better fastball than any other quarterback Horton has coached at Wisconsin. In the past, Horton has said that Stocco had the strongest arm he had seen in Madison. Both Savage and Meier, however, throw even harder.

"They look good throwing it around but they haven't done it in a game," Horton cautioned. "A lot of times a guy can look good throwing it around but in a game all of a sudden he gets a little slower… But just on the practice field they got big arms. Craig's probably got the best arm of anybody but it's all consistency factor and then what are you going to do when the bullets are really live."

Meier thrived on the scout team, winning the Badgers' Scout Offensive Player of the Year award.

"He really busts his tail every day," Horton said. "He does what the coaches want and he does it with enthusiasm and effort. He's got a very good arm where he can really cut it loose and make some plays. And the kids kind of rallied around him."

As a scout team player, though, Meier spent most of his time working for the defense and its coaches.

"[He] throws most of the routes pretty well for a young player. He's got a developed arm," co-linebackers coach Brian Murphy said. "He's a smart guy. He's one of those guys that guys like to rally around. He's that type of person. He competes and he's willing to mix it up. All the things you look for in the quarterback position from leadership, athletic ability, arm strength. [NFL commentator] John Madden calls it ‘it'. Whatever ‘it' is, he's got ‘it'. I think Craig definitely has those attributes."

"Craig did an outstanding job this year," Horton said. "But we don't run our offense off cards….When you run the scout team there is no pressure on you because nobody expects anything. But when you are running our offense we expect something. That's a big difference for him. We turned the heat up on him."

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