April 20, 2009

Post spring camp: Quarterbacks

MADISON, Wis. - Dustin Sherer had a solid, but not exceptional, spring football season. Scott Tolzien showed a general knowledge of the offense and threw a decent ball throughout. Jon Budmayr stepped onto campus fresh out of high school and threw the ball without hesitation and showcased a seemingly natural talent as a signal caller.

But Curt Phillips may have outdone all of the quarterbacks during the recently concluded 15-practice spring schedule.

His ability to make plays on his feet has forced the Wisconsin coaching staff to consider a separate package to get him on the field. That is, of course, if he doesn't overtake Sherer who is currently No. 1 on the depth chart.

"I said, 'how is this year different than last year?," UW head coach Bret Bielema said in reference to an earlier conversation with Phillips. "He goes, 'coach, I was saying words in the huddle that I didn't even know what they meant.'

"He's just that much further along of understanding what we're doing offensively."

Throughout the allotted 15 practices, both Sherer and Phillips worked primarily with the No. 1 offensive units when receiving reps. Sherer has shown more poise and patience in the pocket than he did last fall, but he does not have the ability to turn nothing into something with his feet like Phillips does.

Phillips, on the other hand, has had the unfortunate stigma of having less arm strength than the other quarterbacks. However, during the annual spring game last weekend, he led all quarterbacks with 122 passing yards on 10-for-16 throwing.

That development may have started during UW's spring break when both Phillips and Sherer went to Florida to participate in an elite quarterback camp. With spring camp over, it is safe to say both have benefited from the work.

Sherer doesn't throw from as low of an angle as a season ago and Phillips seems to have more zip on his passes.

"It's hard to change your throwing motion after 22 years because it's something you've been doing your whole life," Sherer said earlier in spring camp. "For me it's that, and I want to come out here and be better everyday. I'm the starter and I want to carry myself that way. I want to show everyone I'm a leader."

But, as expected, Bielema did not name a starter following the completion of the spring season. He did, however, make it seem like Phillips is catching up to Sherer in the department after the spring game.

"Like I said in our opening press conference four weeks ago," Bielema said. "Someone asked, 'what does Dustin have to do?' I said, well, he's got to be better than the rest by a significant amount. He's a fifth year starter, he's a guy that started for half the season. During the course of spring ball, there were certain things that popped up that just weren't there.

"On the same court, Dustin had done a lot of good things. He'd improved a lot. I think if you look at Dustin, where he is today from where he was a year ago at this time, he's significantly better. So, that got me excited. But on the same account, I saw a guy, Curt Phillips, go out there and do some things. I know he can do some things with his feet, but to see what he did today (spring game) in the passing game made a significant statement to me."

Switching gears to the other two quarterbacks on the depth chart, it seems Tolzien will be third in line. Throughout the majority of practice, he saw time with the No. 2 offensive unit. Thus it is difficult to gauge whether he was too indecisive or if it was offensive line struggles that continually hampered him throughout the spring. Still, Tolzien is a smart player that could potentially have success down the road.

Budmayr came in and had his best practices during the opening week of camp. But shortly thereafter, he suffered a nagging groin injury that seemingly hampered his ability to perform without limitation.

Still, he came in fearless and showcased great arm strength, pocket presence and vision for a smaller quarterback prospect. He looks the part and flashes great potential, and will likely see significant advantages to enrolling early down the road.

"I think it will benefit me a lot," Budmayr said earlier in camp. "I know I wouldn't be this far if I weren't here. Being able to know the plays and then obviously the physical part of it. I'd be throwing the ball at home too, but getting in here and getting the reps of the college game, being able to run the plays that are going to be run.

"That type of experience is definitely going to benefit down the road.

Projection:

Phillips seemed to be closing the gap and pushing his fellow teammate Sherer during the past several practices. This battle will likely extend to fall camp before the coaches decided who would open the season under the lights against Northern Illinois.

"I try not to worry about that the whole spring," Phillips said. "We're just trying to take the reps we had and make the most of them. You can't be looking over your shoulder and I think each quarterback did a really good job with that. We all do something a little bit different, but we just got to keep progressing from here."

Projected Depth Chart:

Dustin Sherer, SR
Curt Phillips, FR
Scott Tolzien, JR
Jon Budmayr, FR

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