A year ago at this time, University of Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien was preparing to spend almost the entire spring game with the White squad, made up of reserves.
Perhaps nothing speaks to how far Tolzien has come in the past 12 months than the fact he only got one one series with the Cardinal team last April.
Going into another spring game on Saturday, Tolzien is the established senior starter and one of the top returning quarterbacks in the Big Ten Conference.
The only issue regarding Tolzien now is keeping him healthy. With Tolzien and redshirt freshman Jon Budmayr as the only healthy scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, the Badgers would probably put them in bubble wrap on Saturday if they could.
Barring that, green no-contact jerseys will have to suffice. Not that Tolzien is concerned.
“I’m not worried about getting injured or anything like that,” he said after Tuesday’s practice.
While Tolzien had not yet been informed how much work he would get in the game, he was already lobbying for as much as possible.
“My personal preference, I hope I play as much as possible,” Tolzien said. “It’s a limited window — 15 (spring) practices. I consider the spring game as the 15th practice. I’ll take any reps I can get to try and learn from them and try to get better.”
That kind of attitude helps explain Tolzien’s meteoric rise in the last year.
Still, offensive coordinator Paul Chryst is in a tough spot after sophomore quarterback Curt Phillips suffered a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament in practice three weeks ago.
The only other healthy quarterback on the roster is walk-on transfer Nate Tice, who has gotten only limited work in practice.
“What Scotty gains from the spring game is so different from what Jon does,” Chryst said. “Jon will get a good share of work (and we’ll) give Nate a chance to do it.
“I’d like to work Jon, just play (him) the whole game, work him with both sides and, hopefully, make it look like football.”
It’s never easy being the White quarterback and going against the No. 1 defense. Yet, Budmayr, who spent all of last year’s game with the White team, sees benefits to playing on both sides.
“Scotty and I were both with the White squad last year,” he said. “Coming out of it, we both said we kind of learned some stuff from it, too.
“You kind of have to make some plays sometimes. Stuff is not going to be perfect and the game is going to break down. So, it kind of gave you the opportunity to create. It was helpful.”
There’s no way to totally protect the quarterbacks, as evidenced by Phillips’ injury. His knee buckled while running, without getting hit.
But since the quarterbacks are off limits from contact in all practices, the defensive players are accustomed to being careful. So, Tolzien didn’t expect any extra instructions from the coaches this week about staying away from the quarterbacks. He also said it’s not as bad as in the fall, when defensive players work up a lather getting ready for games.
“They’re not like caged animals right now, like they are in the fall,” Tolzien said.