uw football

UW football: QB O’Brien hopes to make an immediate impact

2012-08-12T05:00:00Z 2012-08-12T20:52:31Z UW football: QB O’Brien hopes to make an immediate impactTOM MULHERN | Wisconsin State Journal | tmulhern@madison.com | 608-252-6169 madison.com

They play the same position, came from the same conference and took advantage of the same rule.

Ultimately, they both landed in the same program, for similar reasons.

The comparisons between Russell Wilson and Danny O’Brien should end there, but they won’t, of course.

Since O’Brien made the decision to transfer from Maryland and follow the path Wilson forged a year ago to the University of Wisconsin — each getting a chance to play right away, having earned a degree — much of the focus has been on the similarities between their situations.

Now that O’Brien has arrived on campus, spent two months getting to know his teammates and has gone through the first week of preseason camp, it might be appropriate to point out the differences.

One of Wilson’s strongest supporters, from Day One, was UW athletic director Barry Alvarez, who quickly recognized the special talent that arrived from North Carolina State.

So, after O’Brien signed with UW in the spring, Alvarez was asked to make a comparison between the two.

"I’m not going to compare anybody with Russell, because Russell’s the best quarterback I’ve been around," Alvarez said. "I’ve never been around anyone even close to Russell as far as preparation, as far as knowledge, as far as ability. He really is special. So, I don’t even want to try to put (O’Brien) in Russell’s category."

Still, that didn’t prevent the expected questions about Wilson when O’Brien met with reporters for the first time this week.

"(The comparisons) are obviously going to happen because it’s a similar circumstance, but I am just going to be myself, which I know how to be," O’Brien said.

"It really hasn’t crossed my mind all that much just because I am here working with the guys and that really hasn’t come up."

The first week of practices were closed to the media, so reporters had to rely on coaches and teammates as to how O’Brien is fitting in.

"Danny’s been great," offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Matt Canada said. "Excited to have him here, he’s jumped right in. We’ve got a real good situation with him. He throws the football well. He’s got game experience, which is something that’s hard to get, you’ve got to play to have it."

O’Brien has 17 career starts, putting him in a different stratosphere from his competitors for the starting job. The last time fifth-year senior Curt Phillips was in a game was for one play, handing off to Montee Ball on Dec. 5, 2009, at Hawaii. Phillips has played in only four games total, with no starts.

The other top contender is Joel Stave, who ended spring practices atop the depth chart. But Stave is a redshirt freshman — and a walk-on.

Despite his decided edge in game experience, O’Brien said, "I am not really trying to rely on that. I really want to play as good as I can right here, right now."

Beyond the game experience, O’Brien already has been through the battles at the position. He was the Atlantic Coast Conference’s top rookie in 2010, when he went 7-3 as a starter and completed 57 percent of his passes, with 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

He went through a coaching change and a switch from a pro-style offense to a spread, instituted by new coach Randy Edsall and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton. The Terps went 2-10 and Crowton was fired.

O’Brien completed 56.4 percent of his passes for 1,648 yards, with seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His season ended when he suffered a broken bone in his left (non-throwing) arm on Nov. 12 in a loss to Notre Dame.

He dealt with pressure and expectations coming off his successful redshirt freshman year, so he doesn’t think this situation is any different. In fact, there’s not much O’Brien will face here he hasn’t dealt with. He emerged from a quarterback competition two years ago to win the starting job. He has known success and failure, learning to handle both.

"You just learn about yourself, how you handle it and get back up from it," he said of last season’s struggles. "That’s what I’m looking forward to here, a fresh start, putting the past in the past. Getting back in a pro-style system has been great. I’m looking forward to that."

O’Brien took more away from last season than an appreciation for a pro-style offense. He said being in a zone-read offense helped his mobility.

In terms of personality, it’s too early to judge O’Brien, but he was smart enough to move in with two linemen, center Travis Frederick and left guard Ryan Groy, when invited.

"I think it helps living with the linemen, just because they protect you on Saturdays, your life is in their hands," O’Brien said. "It’s good to know them."

The coaches insist O’Brien is in a legitimate competition for the starting job, which might be the biggest difference with Wilson, who was No. 1 almost from the first day.

Canada is not concerned about a timetable for naming a starter and is confident the position will be in capable hands.

"I will continue to say the quarterback position will be a position of strength at Wisconsin," Canada said. "I have great faith in that, I have no doubt about that."

Alvarez’s reluctance to compare O’Brien and Wilson should not be interpreted as a lack of excitement over O’Brien’s arrival.

"I’m enthused about him, too," Alvarez said prior to camp. "He’s a veteran quarterback, he’s played (and) had success. The fact we have three of our quarterbacks injured. ... I think it’s like an insurance policy."

Perhaps one of the most intriguing comparisons is how two different personalities, with contrasting styles, chose UW for many of the same reasons.

"When you build your program around linemen, that’s what you have," Alvarez said. "I’ve always said, when your offensive linemen are captains of your team, you really have something. They’re the most unselfish guys around.

"If you’re a quarterback, I’d want to go some place where you had a line and it wouldn’t just depend on me throwing the ball and moving the chains."

Copyright 2014 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

No Comments Posted.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

Video: NCAA football

Associated Press rankings

Featured businesses

Get weekly ads via e-mail

Vote!

Loading…

Which is your favorite Wisconsin-related #IceBucketChallenge video?

View Results
Daily sports email alerts

Don't miss a moment of local high school athletics.


Don't miss a moment of UW athletics.