March 5, 2010

Spring outlook: Quarterbacks

MADISON - For the first time in what seems to be ages, the Wisconsin football team will enter spring camp presumably without a quarterback battle, tussle or struggle.

Last fall, though it seemed to be Dustin Sherer and Curt Phillips locked into a tight battle entering camp, junior Scott Tolzien earned his way into the starting lineup with consistency and good decision-making.

With Tolzien at the helm, Wisconsin went on to win 10 games including a rather decisive win over then No. 14 Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl to end a season many didn't have high expectations for.

Now, entering his final spring camp set to begin March 13th, Tolzien is looking to build upon his 2,705 yards passing and 16 touchdown performance that helped the Badger offense average nearly 30 points per game a season ago.

"He's just a steady performer," UW head coach Bret Bielema said before UW's season opener against Northern Illinois. "He doesn't get overly rattled in any situation and he's very, very intelligent. The part that probably jumped out to me, and not necessarily the fact that Scott Tolzien is the starter, is accuracy."

It can only be expected that Tolzien will get better with another full spring of practices with his entire offensive line from a season ago back in the fold. Chemistry among that unit should not be a problem.

To start spring camp Curt Phillips will likely be behind Tolzien on the depth chart. Now, entering his third season in the UW program after coming in as one of the more highly touted freshmen in his recruiting class, Phillips will focus on improving his game in hopes of taking it to a new level.

After dabbling in some games and gaining some much needed experience on the field, it seems as though the UW coaching staff is trying to come up with some ways to get the Tennessee native on the field.

"I watch a lot of different things out here, but I know what Curt can do," Bielema said during fall camp. "And you guys know if something breaks down he has the ability to make something out of nothing."

Phillips, who is easily the fastest quarterback on the UW roster, has an extra element to his style of play that none of the other signal callers truly possess. The way the duel-threat quarterback can run makes it difficult for many opponents (including his own teammates in practice) to slow him down.

One play stood out from last fall camp. With a rush coming from both sides, Phillips broke out of the pocket, took off up the far sideline and sprinted well over 80 yards for the score.

Next in line is Jon Budmayr, a strong-armed passer, who arguably throws the best ball of the entire group. After coming in as an early enrollee last spring, Budmayr was making strides throughout his first semester on campus before a groin injury limited him midway through camp.

Then, once the season drew closer and the team started working two-a-days in the fall, Budmayr suffered an elbow injury that kept him out of a large portion of his freshman season.

"It was just kind of an injury in my elbow and it was just kind of from overuse," Budmayr said during Miami bowl prep practice. "So I just had to shut it down for six to eight weeks then worked back into it. I was kind of on a pitch count for a little while and now I'm back to full go."

With the confidence in his elbow fully restored, Budmayr should be back to full strength. If everything goes as expected and Budmayr can avoid the injury bug, he will likely push both Tolzien and Phillips throughout the entire month of spring camp.

He may not do enough things to break into the starting lineup this year, but he could set himself up for a nice battle this time next year when Tolzien exhausts his eligibility and another quarterback battle between Phillips and Budmayr comes to the forefront.

"I'll come out and compete each day in spring practice," Budmayr said back in December. "Then next year in fall camp I'll just try to get better each day and support whoever is in there."

Rounding out the group is transfer quarterback Nate Tice. During his first season as a Badger, Tice struggled at times throwing the ball at a consistent level. Physically, he has great size, but it seems as though he has a long way to go before he is considered as a legitimate starting candidate.

Projection:

Tolzien will surely enter spring camp as the No. 1 guy on the depth chart. He proved over the course of a season that he is more than capable of leading the offense on a weekly basis.

With high expectations abounding this team entering next fall, it will be up to Tolzien to keep the offense in check and functioning at a high level. In doing so, Tolzien will positively feel some pressure as the main guy. But if anything was proven a year ago, he can handle that.

Look for Curt Phillips and Jon Budmayr to engage in a somewhat intriguing battle in both spring and fall camp. Eventually, though it will probably take a decent chunk of time in the fall, expect Phillips to take control of the backup role behind Tolzien.

Don't be shocked if the redshirt sophomore gets some reps in games, much like he did a season ago in select situations.

Projected Depth Chart:

Scott Tolzien, SR
Curt Phillips, R-SOPH
Jon Budmayr, R-FR
Nate Tice, JR

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