UW FOOTBALL

Badgers football: UW goes into spring practice with decisions to make at quarterback

2014-03-05T05:55:00Z Badgers football: UW goes into spring practice with decisions to make at quarterbackTOM MULHERN | tmulhern@madison.com | 608-252-6169 madison.com

No one is ready to refer to the quarterback situation for the University of Wisconsin football team as an abundance of talented players.

But the Badgers do have a glut of players to sort out at the position as spring practice opens today, which is going to put pressure on offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Andy Ludwig to make some quick decisions.

The Badgers go into spring practice with six quarterbacks: junior Joel Stave, sophomore Bart Houston, junior Tanner McEvoy, freshman D.J. Gillins (an early enrollee) and two walk-ons — redshirt freshman Connor Senger and sophomore Thad Armstrong.

Stave has started 19 games over the past two seasons, including all 13 last year. But he was knocked out of the Capital One Bowl with a shoulder injury that is expected to keep him out of the start of spring drills.

“Joel’s our starting quarterback,” UW coach Gary Andersen said. “He started all the games last year. It’s his spot to lose.”

In early February, Ludwig expressed no concerns about Stave being ready in the spring. But ESPN indicated last week via its ESPN_Big Ten Twitter account that Stave would be limited for the first part of spring, with Houston, McEvoy and Gillins all getting work with the first team.

The tweet also indicated Ludwig wants to reduce the quarterback pool to three. With Stave a lock to be part of that group when he returns, that means Houston, McEvoy, Gillins and possibly Senger could be battling for two spots.

“They all want to play,” Andersen said last month. “There’s a lot of quarterbacks, but there’s only so many reps to go around.”

Ludwig mentioned “production” and “potential” as factors when it comes to dividing the practice snaps.

“Who’s doing things right?” Ludwig said. “And then, the biggest thing is making sure, to evaluate guys, that they’re getting the same reps. They’re each throwing that corner route or that curl route in a team situation.

“In seven-on-seven, you’re just learning plays and you’re going as fast as you can. But in the team reps, trying to orchestrate it where they’re getting the same type of plays, so you get a good chance to evaluate them equally.”

Gillins, from Jacksonville, Fla., is the kind of dual-threat quarterback the Badgers have sought since the coaching staff arrived in December 2012. But he also has the furthest to go, missing almost his entire junior season of high school with a torn ACL.

“He needs to develop himself more as a dropback passer,” Ludwig said. “Obviously, on the film you can see him run and make plays, but he’s real raw in terms of his mechanics and throwing the football and his footwork in the dropback pass game. That’s something he started working on already. That’s where his upside is tremendous.”

Gillins, 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, was a four-year starter at quarterback in high school, operating in spread offenses. He spent three years at Eagle’s View Academy before transferring to Ribault as a senior. He threw for 7,271 yards and 76 touchdowns in high school while running for 775 yards and 13 TDs.

“They’d roll the ball out and (say), ‘D.J., make a play,’ ” Ludwig said. “There will be a little more structure here.”

Ludwig said Gillins’ high school coaches refer to him as a “gym rat,” which has also proved true in his brief time on campus.

“He knocks on my door every day,” Ludwig said. “That’s the kind of guy you want.”

Ludwig thinks he can have a big impact on Gillins’ mechanics, which is why getting him to enroll early was crucial.

“He hasn’t had a lot of quarterback coaching in his life,” Ludwig said. “He’s got all of the raw talent to do it. He can really spin it.”

Houston spent last season as the No. 3 quarterback and could be ready to make a big jump. He has a strong arm and can make all of the throws, with a quick release and loads of confidence. He’s not considered a strong runner, though he played in an option offense in high school at De La Salle in Concord, Calif.

McEvoy, 6-6, 223, opened eyes after moving to safety last season and playing well at the position in the second half of the season. He is determined to give quarterback another shot. That’s the position he was recruited to play last season as a junior-college transfer from Arizona Western.

He didn’t have time to get comfortable in the offense and the plan was to try him at receiver. That was foiled by a wrist injury that required surgery late in preseason camp. After that, he moved to free safety and flourished.

“He looked so much more comfortable (at quarterback) when he came to us in bowl prep,” Ludwig said. “He was a different guy. A big part of that is just being more settled in Wisconsin and knowing the program and how we operate.

“Ask him, he’d tell you he’s throwing it the best he’s ever thrown it right now, as the guys are working out on their own.”

McEvoy didn’t get a chance to show off his running skills at quarterback last season. Ludwig said that gets added later, usually after a starter is picked.

But McEvoy flashed his speed, athleticism and competitiveness at safety.

Ludwig was asked if there was anything he saw McEvoy do at safety that will translate to playing quarterback.

“Yeah, the way he went out and competed and the way he hit,” he said. “You just don’t know (about the hitting). He wasn’t doing that in my (quarterback) drills. He’s a competitive guy.”

Senger, 5-10, 175 pounds, is another dual threat who was named Offensive Scout Player of the Year last season. He’s a bit of a long shot, but the coaches love his leadership potential, athleticism and personality.

And don’t forget Stave, who put up decent numbers last season, throwing for 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns while completing 61.9 percent of his throws. His problems were too many interceptions (13) and too many missed throws with open receivers.

“I saw improvement, but not enough,” Ludwig said. “We want more.

“If you look at it, we need two more completions a game out of Joel. If he does that, he’s throwing 68 percent completions on the year. That’s a whole ’nother level.”

Stave completed nine of 13 passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns before injuring his right shoulder late in the third quarter of the Capital One Bowl.

Until that point, Ludwig was encouraged by how Stave played in the game.

“We made some adjustments in the bowl prep with some of the things we were doing,” Ludwig said. “I think he took to it well.

“He’s working on his feet (last month); he’s not throwing just yet, but he’s continuing to work on some of those things. I anticipate, as does he, great improvement from a year ago.”

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(12) Comments

  1. pjh16
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    pjh16 - March 05, 2014 8:49 pm
    Bottom line is that JS is done...I'm disappointed that BH did not get a chance last year and according to insiders he would've been the better backup last year...I admire GA's desire to give the backup position to a 6th yr. SR but as what happened in the bowl game last year the staff should've developed BH last year...I think JS will easily be beat out of the job this year and I can see any one of the top 3 starting next year...Go Badgers!!!
  2. adamman
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    adamman - March 05, 2014 12:25 pm
    Doesn't Johnny Manziel have eligibility left? Better get him signed up before the draft.
  3. philfan05
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    philfan05 - March 05, 2014 11:54 am
    If Stave is our best option, we should consider installing the Wildcat offense this offseason.
  4. Yoopermn
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    Yoopermn - March 05, 2014 11:21 am
    Obviously it's his to lose, since he was the starter all year...of course they'll say that, but it doesn't really mean anything in regards to who starts next year. They've also been clear it's an open competition and the best performing QB will get the job. Of course we all want the best player in there, but I will be a bit disappointed if that ends up being Stave. Maybe he'll surprise us all, but seems he may have reached his ceiling. I'm thinking it'll be Houston...maybe not for LSU, but shortly thereafter.
  5. Milt6969
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    Milt6969 - March 05, 2014 11:11 am
    Time to move past Stave. He is immobile, has no pocket sense and can go stone cold. Based on who they are recruiting (Gillins & Kafentzis) they want an option QB. With our RBs we should get much more production from the most important position on any team.
  6. jayhoo67
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    jayhoo67 - March 05, 2014 10:20 am
    I am continually amazed by the staff's regard for Stave, which at times borders on the irrational. He doesn't have a strong enough upside to produce a championship. I don't believe the choice will be Houston. The staff made no effort to get him in games last season where they could have. Probably not the runner they eventually want at QB. Sounds like it might be Tanner or D.J. by the end of the season. I think G.A. wants to model the offense after his mentor's down in Columbus. Should be interesting to see how it develops in the spring.
  7. retired
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    retired - March 05, 2014 9:57 am
    If coach Anderson is so grt., he surely should see that Stave is NOT starting quarterback material. He,[Stave] has had enough time to show/prove this. Just because he has been there the longest means nothing, Stave proved time and time again, in the Bid 10, a one dimension quarterback will NOT get it done, period.
  8. Ego Vigilabo Vigilum
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    Ego Vigilabo Vigilum - March 05, 2014 9:07 am
    I have confidence that Coach A, who will see more than all of us combined, will go with the guy that gives them the best chance to win.

    Competition is good, and the one you want calling signals is the one that will welcome it and rise to the challenge.

    I've seen some film on Gillins and he's very elusive, almost like he had eyes in the back of his head, but skinny as a rail.

    After shoveling for an hour, it's nice to come in to read about Spring Ball!

    ON WISCONSIN!!
  9. adamman
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    adamman - March 05, 2014 8:58 am
    There should be a paper, rock, scissors competition to determine the guy who will hand the ball off to a running back.

    Receivers will be decoys, at least until the second offensive series of the season.

    Another factor should be who can hand the ball off and then drop back and do the best "Brett Farve fake pass move" That will be a critical part of the strategy this year.
  10. Fflambeau
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    Fflambeau - March 04, 2014 9:45 pm
    Give the majority of snaps in practice to the younger QB's. We know already what Stave is capable of, and more importantly, what he isn't capable of. I'd go with a younger player, who has more development possibilities, because as Gary R has indicated, Stave did not progress much last year. I'd try to get Gillins and Bart Houston ready to go with Stave as a backup.
  11. 3cats
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    3cats - March 04, 2014 4:25 pm
    LSU in the opener. Stave starts. No way a true freshman or second year guy with little experience starts that game. ( I'm assuming Tanner will be needed more on defense). They will need to make the game somewhat respectable. Doesn't mean Stave ends the season as the starter though. Look at Michigan State. They had a different QB at the end of the year.
  12. GaryRobbins
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    GaryRobbins - March 04, 2014 3:28 pm
    It's Stave's job to lose?
    W/his lack of progress last year, the QB position should be completely open this year.
    If Stave wins the position again, then so be it. But instead of it being 'Stave's to lose', it should be 'anybody's to win.'
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