Spring Position Preview: Quarterbacks

Senior quarterback Dustin Sherer

With the Wisconsin football team starting its 15-spring practice slate this week, Badger Nation dives into the position battles. First up, we start with quarterbacks, a position that gave Badger fans headaches a season ago.

MADISON – It has become the unofficial spring tradition with the University of Wisconsin football team.

Another season, another spring quarterback battle and, most likely, no clear-cut winner until the leaves start changing colors.

For the third straight season, the competition to quarterback the Badger offense will be wide-open and, with three viable candidates, appears to head right down to the wire.

"We've got four guys that will begin and we need to get them all a lot of reps," offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. "Each guy is different and all bring something different to the table. Whoever the guy is, we need to be better than we were last year."

The opening favorite when camp opens will be fifth-year quarterback Dustin Sherer. Thrown into the fire after inconsistent play forced the Wisconsin coaching staff to bench Allan Evridge, Sherer became the permanent starter in week seven.

After struggling and admitting the nerves were there in his two-interception performance against Iowa (the first start of his career), Sherer touchdown-to-interception was 6-to-2 in UW's final six games.

In 2008, Sherer averaged 126.3 yards through the air (finishing the season with 1,389 passing yards), a completion percentage of 54.5 percent and had a quarterback rating of over 130.0 in four of UW's final six games.

Just like Evridge, Sherer struggles with his passing accuracy and split-second decisions, as the quarterback tried too often to make plays instead of letting them develop. Against Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl, Sherer completed just 9-of-16 passes for 132 yards in UW's humbling season-ending loss.

"I love the way he competes," Chryst said of Sherer. "He's a guy that mirrors what we want our team to be – guys that competes, guys that are tough. Dustin has built on what he learned last year as a starter and he has a chance to make a difference between winning and losing."

The backup position is where the position becomes a little dicey. With redshirt freshman James Stallons transferring from the program, redshirt junior Scott Tolzien looks to be the guy to fill the shoes.

Although having played very little during his career (going 4-of-7 for 90 yards in his most extended work against Iowa last season), Tolzien, said by his peers to be the smartest guy on the team, isn't the most athletic of the bunch, but can diagram every play forwards and backwards and plays the position with a sturdy confidence.

"He's got a good feel of what we're trying to do in the offense," Chryst said. "He's got to make use of the skill set that he has. He can make this offense go. He's got to bring his niche to the offense. He's got to have success in his own way and he's very capable of that."

But the player that has most of Badger Nation buzzing is redshirt freshman Curt Phillips, the highly-touted quarterback from Tennessee. Named Wisconsin's Scout Team MVP last season, Phillips, who enrolled early last year to participate in spring ball, mimicked every Big Ten quarterback during the season and is extremely athletic, attributes and characteristics that have many people hoping he starts the season opener September 5th.

"Curt Phillips is a guy that we're excited about," Chryst said. "Curt's got some athletic ability, he can throw. The big thing that Curt hasn't been is just thrown into it. Last year he was kind of fed easily the offense, kind of what he could grasp and go. Now he's got to learn it all."

Following Phillips' lead in graduating early is Jon Budmayr, a three-star prospect and 69th-best quarterback in the country by Scout.com. Budmayr missed all of his senior season after breaking his collarbone in the season opener, but had successful surgery to repair the damage and was given a clean bill of health in December.

"I am real anxious to see how they fit into our system," head coach Bret Bielema said about both Phillips and Budmayr.

With Sherer, Tolzien and Phillips the likely candidates to be considered for the starting position, both the signal callers and the coaching staff know that the goal in spring ball is simple – try to fix the inconsistencies that contributed to the downfall of the 2008 season.

"We got to make sure the position is improving," Chryst said. "We need to do better at the quarterback position. The number one thing overall is we need the quarterback position to be more consistent."

The road to consistency starts Tuesday.

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