As is the case with any college football team, spring football can be a crucial time for the coaching staff as it tries to find the puzzle pieces to replace the holes left by graduating seniors. This will be an especially difficult task for the reigning Big Ten champion Wisconsin Badgers, as fans expect nothing less than continuing to compete at the highest level regardless of the personnel head coach Bret Bielema has available.
One position that has already sparked plenty of preseason discussion has been the quarterback position and who will be chosen as the replacement for one-and-done starter Russell Wilson.
Both of Bielema’s top recruits, redshirt junior Jon Budmayr and redshirt senior Curt Phillips, have dealt with significant injury problems over the past year that are just beginning to improve and leave a huge question mark at, arguably, the most important position on the field.
Phillips, who is recovering from the most recent of a string of knee problems, including ACL tears that have forced him to the sidelines the last two seasons, is just beginning to practice and has yet to do any drills with the regular team.
“[He] has been involved moderately with the throwing, the individual time, nothing [where] we got live bodies moving around,” Bielema said at his Monday press conference. “He has continued to make good strides.”
Meanwhile, Budmayr has continued to struggle with neurological issues in his shoulder and elbow that have plagued him for the past year and are just beginning to be diagnosed by doctors.
“Last week, at the end of the week, [Budmayr] got some indication as to what they feel might be the problem, ” Bielema said. “He is actually at the Mayo Clinic this week getting some second opinions for him to move forward, and hopefully [they are] on the right path there for him.”
Considering the bad luck the Badgers have suffered from over the last few years regarding quarterback injuries, many have begun to question whether Bielema needs to make it a priority to recruit more quarterbacks.
Since his first season as the Badgers’ head coach in 2006, Bielema has made it a point to recruit only one quarterback each year.
“I made a conscientious decision my first year that we were going to sign one quarterback and one tailback every year,” Bielema said. “Obviously, the predicament that you get in is if you have two quarterbacks, or in our situation, three quarterbacks, that didn’t work out because of injury. … [But] it provided an opportunity like what we saw with Russell [Wilson].”
The time for the younger quarterbacks in the group – redshirt freshman Joel Stave and redshirt sophomore Joe Brennan – may come sooner than they know. Bielema expects they will continue to improve with time, especially with the uncertainty of the current quarterback situation, in the areas of on-field communication and reading the game.
“I just want to see the composure in the huddle, being able to communicate, … and that has been outstanding,” Bielema said. “I think both of them [look good]; even the players around them have noticed that right away.”
Next season will also be the first time in the last few years that the Badgers will look to new starters at the kicker and punter positions. Last year’s starting kicker, Philip Welch, graduated this year as the Big Ten’s leader in extra point field goals made (207), a tough shadow for any new kicker to overcome.
As a result, the coaching staff has made it a focus to make sure redshirt sophomore kicker Kyle French and redshirt freshman punter Drew Meyer are prepared for the type of pressure they will be forced to face on a regular basis next fall in the Big Ten.
“We try to create as many pressure situations as possible. [French] was four-for-four [a couple of days ago],” Bielema said. “It’s all about trying to create as much pressure as possible in scenarios; nothing is going to be like 80,000 fans next fall, but you can try to do your best [to replicate it].”