University of Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema has never hidden his fondness for senior quarterback Curt Phillips.
It was on display again Monday when Bielema addressed UW's future at quarterback after confirming redshirt freshman starter Joel Stave will miss eight weeks with a broken left collarbone.
There's an outside chance Stave could be back for a bowl game, but until then the Badgers will have to choose between junior Danny O'Brien and Phillips at quarterback.
Bielema said the two players will compete for the job in practice during the bye this week, with a decision to be made by next Tuesday at the latest. The choice will be shared with the team but will not necessarily be made public prior to UW's game at Indiana Nov. 10.
"Danny's had his shot a couple times this year," Bielema said. "We'll take this bye week and pretty much give him and Curt equal reps, see where we're at going into Sunday."
The biggest issue with Phillips remains how he is faring physically after enduring three ACL surgeries on his right knee during his UW career.
Bielema said Phillips has benefited from a lighter practice workload during the regular season. Phillips started strong in preseason camp, according to Bielema, then hit a stretch when he wore down during two-a-days.
Phillips tore his knee ligaments for the third time during spring practices in 2011 and had not practiced extensively for a year-and-a-half heading into camp.
"I would think he's actually gotten better with a limited amount of practice time," Bielema said.
The admiration for Phillips apparently extends to offensive coordinator Matt Canada and the players.
"I know this: There's probably not a kid that's invested more time to get on the field than Curt Phillips on our football team," Bielema said. "Our kids ... love him. I think our coaches like him. Matt has been intrigued with Curt, ever since Day One. You know he's got that 'it' factor that quarterbacks need to have. It'll be fun to see him really compete this week."
Bielema admitted O'Brien, in his first year at UW after transferring from Maryland, has not been put into the easiest of situations. O'Brien has completed 52 of 86 passes (60.5 percent) for 523 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
He was benched abruptly at halftime of his third start, despite playing well in the opener against Northern Iowa, completing 19 of 23 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
O'Brien came off the bench against Nebraska with about 3 minutes to play and UW trailing by three points. After two first downs, he made an ill-fated decision to change a bootleg call and try to hand the ball off to Montee Ball, who didn't know it was coming, resulting in a fumble.
Then came the disastrous second half on Saturday against Michigan State's dominating defense.
Bielema believes O'Brien was prepared when put into that game, though the first two plays resulted in a nearly botched handoff and a sack.
"(Backup quarterbacks) are in difficult spots," Bielema said. "Danny transferred in with the dream of being a two-year starting quarterback at Wisconsin. It started that way and got side-railed."
Added Bielema: "Those moments, if you take them the right way, will make you better for the future. I think Danny's done that. But a lot will be shown this week in practice."
It could be telling the past two weeks that a big part of the reason O'Brien was the backup — if anyone had to go in during the middle of a series — was due to "continuity" of the offense.
That means O'Brien wasn't No. 2 based solely on ability, but because he is more similar to Stave and fit the game plan. Phillips brings a running element the coaches tried to utilize against Illinois with no luck.
Phillips has yet to attempt a pass this season, but given two weeks to prepare before going to Indiana, the coaches could devise a game plan around his skills.
"You obviously want both guys to feel comfortable in what they're doing, but they both kind of bring some different skills," Bielema said.
Their performance in practice will be evaluated along with what they have done in past games, Bielema said.
Freshman walk-on Chase Knox, who is being redshirted, will be the third quarterback.