Pocket Presence

Already a threat with his legs, redshirt freshman quarterback Curt Phillips has made it a point during Wisconsin's fall camp to become comfortable making plays from the pocket. After two weeks of camp, the results for Phillips are evident, both good and bad.

MADISON - Curt Phillips couldn't accurately say who did what in what drill. He doesn't remember what Dustin Sherer did five minutes before or what Scott Tolzien did after that.

When it comes to the quarterback competition at the University of Wisconsin, Phillips doesn't remember anything his competitors do, he keeps the focus on himself.

"You can't be looking over your shoulder," Phillips said. "You have to play your game and roll with it. It's about coming up, taking advantage of the repetitions you get and even when the other quarterbacks are taking a rep, take a mental rep to see what you would have done.

"That's the main rep, take experience from everything so nothing goes to waste."

Sixteen practices into UW's fall preseason camp and less than two weeks from the season opener against Northern Illinois, Phillips' focus and abilities appears to have him in position to win the starting job over Sherer, a fifth-year senior, and Tolzien, a fourth-year junior.

After throwing for 5,418 yards, rushing for 3,788 yards and scoring 115 career TDs (64 rushing, 51 passing) at Sullivan South (TN) High, Phillips and all his accolades spent his first year running the scout team, an effective measure seeing as Phillips intimated a spread-option quarterback to perfection.

"He ran the spread in high school and it's been great for me because he tells me what he reads," Defensive Coordinator Dave Doeren said. "He can give me feedback a lot of guys couldn't give you and it was a great thing to have."

In hopes of making the jump from the scout team to the first team, Phillips, along with Sherer, spent their 2009 spring break in Florida at an elite quarterback camp. "You aren't going to change anything in two days," Phillips said, "but the camp gives you an idea of what you need to workout and gives you a few thoughts on how to improve things."

The big change for Phillips was becoming more of a pocket passer. Throughout the spring and fall camps, Phillips has made the effort to stay in the pocket as long as possible, delivering the pass on time to his intended receiver, even if he knows he's going to take a hit.

"You have to quicken things up a little bit, and that's when you really have to make sure you know what's going on," Phillips said. "You've got to know your hot routes and who you can get it out to quickly. What I have been working on with blitzes is knowing my keys ahead of time so you know what is coming."

Sometimes, Phillips is an offensive hit, like his excellent pass that hit junior tight end Lance Kendricks mid-stride on a pass over the middle that went for 68 yards down to the two-yard line. On the same drive, when his receivers were cover, Phillips took off running and scored easily on a seven-yard run.

"I think my legs can be a weapon," Phillips said about his ability to run. "When things do break down, I think I try to use my legs to extend the play, not necessarily to just run down field. We have that caliber of athlete on the field in the receivers, so I try to get the ball to them and let them make a play."

Other times, however, Phillips plays his age. He's thrown 12 interceptions this spring, including four during Saturday's scrimmage. Although two interceptions can be fingered on the receivers, Phillips was late on one pass over the middle that cornerback Niles Brinkley easily picked off and didn't see free safety Josh Peprah on the other interception.

Despite the progress he's made over the past two weeks, the scrimmage was a reminder, that there's a difference between team drills and a live scrimmage, as it takes time for a young quarterback to adjust to a game-like situation, as much as the coaches try to simulate a situation of speed up the progress.

"There is a lot a guy has to go through," said Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst after the scrimmage. "Quarterback is no different than any other position. (I) like a lot of the progress he's made and yet, he's got to keep going. He's got to get better."

When Phillips finds out his fate on Wednesday, the date Head Coach Bret Bielema will announce the starter for the season opener, he'll be in position to either contribute as the team's starter or as a high-powered weapon off the bench. Either way, Phillips will be a factor, making the UW offense better for it.

"Whatever that role is," Phillips said, "I am excited for so I can contribute this year."


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