Spring wrap-up: quarterbacks

Part 10 of BadgerNation.com's 11-part look at the 2005 spring football practice season

News and notes — The depth chart remained exactly as it was at the end of the 2004 season: John Stocco followed by Tyler Donovan, Bryan Savage and walk-on Craig Meier.

Savage suffered an injury in the second-to-last workout of the spring and is expected to be on the mend for about a month.

Spring MVP — John Stocco. The junior-to-be was the most consistent and impressive of the quarterbacks in Wisconsin's spring practices. He showed improvement from the end of last season, particularly in his ability to throw deep passes, but there is still significant room for growth in this and other regards. Stocco's biggest strength continues to be his leadership. Even when he struggled this spring, he exuded more confidence than the other quarterbacks and he seems to have the confidence of his teammates.

However, Stocco did not take a big enough jump this spring for comfort. Too many open receivers were missed and the offense regularly had a tough time getting into rhythm. Stocco also turned the ball over too frequently, which was a problem for all of the quarterbacks.

Springing ahead — Tyler Donovan still has quite a bit of ground to make up if he is going to catch Stocco, but the third-year sophomore made a huge jump from the end of last season and continued to stride briskly up the development curve throughout the spring. Donovan still needs to be more consistent and accurate with his throws but this spring could not have been much better for him.

Donovan has always been an exceptionally athletic quarterback, possibly the most athletic UW has ever had. But his pocket presence was lacking through his first couple seasons of practice and he struggled to execute his throws, particularly intermediate and long passes.

This spring, however, Donovan made a 180 degree turn. He was comfortable and fluid in the pocket and he did a much better job of finding receivers and delivering the ball on time. Donovan has always had a strong arm to pair with his nimble legs but this spring he broke his habit of overthrowing receivers down field. He is still at his best when he can attack the perimeter and make something happen with his feet, but he no longer looks like a tailback caught playing quarterback. It was not uncommon for UW's offense to look its best with Donovan at the helm.

Pressing questions — Can the Badgers get adequate production out of the most important position on the field? Stocco is still more game manager than playmaker but he is the best quarterback UW has on the field right now. The question is whether he can improve enough between now and opening day to facilitate the Badgers' offense, which will have some capable weapons to work with. Stocco looked plenty comfortable with the timing passes new co-offensive coordinator Paul Chryst worked into the scheme and his leadership remains a big plus. But he will need to pick up his play or the offense will stammer out of the gates.

Bryan Savage's injury was an unfortunate exclamation point on what was a disappointing spring for him. Savage had some shining moments, times where his cannon-like arm and excellent athletic ability were put on display. But the promising redshirt freshman, who probably has the highest ceiling of any UW signal caller, struggled for a stretch early in the practice season, saw his scrimmage reps dwindle, and then languished to a degree while Stocco and Donovan received the bulk of the work.

If there is one thing holding Donovan back, it is that he tends to lock on his target too often, which led him to throw too many interceptions and to miss some open receivers.

Looking ahead — John Stocco will be the opening day quarterback and, if he stays healthy, he will likely start every game this season. But that does not mean he will not have to fight to keep his job this fall or that Donovan will not earn regular playing time.

If Donovan takes as big of a leap forward from spring to fall as he did from bowl practices to spring, the Badgers will find a way to get him on the field and he may improve enough to get right up on Stocco's heels for the No. 1 job.

But the feeling here is that things will click for Stocco enough for him to re-secure the No. 1 job and be a fairly productive quarterback this fall. Being a star is more than likely not in the cards for Stocco, but he should be able to improve upon last year and make more plays within the offense. Stocco's strengths — leadership, avoiding sacks, finding open receivers on check downs — helped UW win its first nine games last season. With a younger offensive line in front of him and some very good receiving options at his disposal, including an excellent group of pass catching running backs, this Badger offense should play well to Stocco's skill set.

Expect Savage to receive a closer look this fall. His first spring may have been frustrating, but UW needs Savage to be a capable reserve this fall. And in the long term he is certainly still a potential starter.

True freshman Dustin Sherer will join the team in the fall but is almost certain to redshirt.

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