By TOM LEA
MADISON – The quarterback competition Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema and his staff has been preaching throughout the course of the past week is exactly that, a three-man race to earn that starting moniker.
Monday’s morning practice — the first of two — lasted just longer than two hours and featured three quarterbacks getting essentially the same amount of reps — Stave (42), Phillips (32) and O'Brien (31) — just as Bielema and company have been saying for the past week.
Curt Phillips, Joel Stave and Danny O’Brien all received reps with the No. 1 offense throughout various drills Monday morning inside Camp Randall Stadium. For the most part, all three of them had their moments when they looked like a serviceable starting quarterback option.
All three of them also had their moments when it was evident they still had a long way to go.
Stave, who opened the team’s third down drill with the No. 1 offense, threw his only interception of the day early on. Fellow freshman Mike Caputo, manning his area of a zone coverage scheme, skied high for the ball intended for a target behind him. He collected the pass and returned it to the end zone for what would have been a ‘pick six.’
“He was a high school running back,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said following Monday’s first of two practices. “He played a little bit of safety and last year he just really started to begin learning the position. There was a lot of debate. We thought about moving him to linebacker. I was really steadfast, sat him down and said, ‘I think you can play safety here if you just play smart and get a feel for it.’
“He’s had a really nice camp. He had a nice pick earlier here today.”
That was the only interception thrown during the festivities, at least from a quarterback contending for the starting job. Freshman Chase Knox through an interception to Terrance Floyd midway through practice.
Otherwise the only other turnovers happened when Vonte Jackson, a freshman running back, lost the football after the whistle was blown. Tailbacks are expected to run approximately 30 yards down field with the ball in hand after the whistle is blown in an effort to boost ball security. Jackson lost the ball during that time and had to run a lap around the Camp Randall turf as punishment.
Dan Voltz, a freshman center, and Curt Phillips muffed one center-quarterback exchange. Phillips recovered the botched snap, but the play was blown dead.
“It wasn’t a rep day yesterday,” Bielema said. “It was a little sluggish at the beginning (today). I thought there were some balls on the ground offensively and it was a little sloppy.
“We’ll come back in full pads tonight and get a good one.”
THE ARM’S RACE:
These are unofficial stats for the three quarterbacks competing for the starting job, split up by various drills they participated in.
Run-Play action team drill:
-Phillips: 3-of-4 passing for 26 yards (11 reps)
-O’Brien: 1-of-2 passing for 0 yards (4 reps)
-Stave: 2-of-2 passing for 25 yards (4 reps)
Skele drill (quarterback, wide receivers, secondary, no rush):
-Stave: 6-of-10 passing, 32 yards, one interception (10 reps)
-Phillips: 6-of-8 passing, 57 yards (8 reps)
-O’Brien: 5-of-6 passing, 40 yards (6 reps)
Team drill (predetermined first, second and third down situations):
-O’Brien: 1-of-2 passing, six yards (8 reps)
-Stave: 3-of-6 passing, 25 yards (8 reps)
-Phillips: 1-of-1, seven yards (4 reps)
Third down situations:
-Stave: 5-of-7 passing, 35 yards (13 reps)
-O’Brien: 0-of-1, zero yards (4 reps)
-Phillips: 1-of-3 passing, eight yards (3 reps)
Move the ball:
-O’Brien: 1-of-3 passing, seven yards. Drive stalled at opponents 43-yard line. (9 reps)
-Phillips: 1-of-1 passing, six yards. Drive stalled at midfield. (6 reps)
-Stave: 2-of-3 passing, 28 yards. Drive stalled at opponents 37-yard line (7 reps)
-Junior defensive tackle Beau Allen did not participate in any team drills, meaning he was not active in No. 1 offense versus No. 1 defense scrimmage situations. Bielema said he suffered a sprained ankle last week.
“We thought he’d be full go today,” Bielema said. “He’s ahead of schedule. He went through individual today and everything looks good.”
Ethan Hemer, Warren Herring, Bryce Gilbert and freshman Arthur Goldberg received reps at defensive tackle during the majority of Monday’s practice. Goldberg and Gilbert are expected to compete for the fourth defensive tackle role throughout the remainder of camp.
Allen, of course, will likely earn a starting gig alongside Hemer.
-Sophomore wide receiver Chase Hammond did not practice during Monday’s morning session. He suffered a concussion during the team’s second practice on Saturday.
“It was not a real significant one,” Bielema said. “They thought he was going to be back sooner rather than later. It (happened) on a little out route and he hit his head on the ground.
“He’ll be back.”
Hammond will compete for playing time at the wide receiver position this fall.
-Sophomore linebacker Ben Ruechel suffered a knee injury and has been removed from the 105. Linebacker Cody Byers, a scholarship athlete that was left off the original 105 for reasons unspecified, has been brought back.
-Freshman tight end Eric Steffes appeared to suffer some sort of lower left leg injury. He did not return to practice.
-Freshman Darius Hillary spent the first week of camp working primarily at cornerback, but after Sunday’s personnel meeting, the coaching staff thought it would be appropriate to move him to safety.
Monday was his first day playing his new position.
“For the first day at free safety (Hillary) really looked natural,” Bielema said. “He brings us a little more athleticism at free safety so we can move Michael Trotter over there and he can compete with Caputo for that second strong safety position.”
Senior Shelton Johnson and junior Dezmen Southward are the projected starters at strong and free safety, respectively.
-Freshman Derek Watt has been moved from middle linebacker to fullback. Bielema thought Watt would have a better chance at playing time on the offensive side of the ball than he did on the defensive side.
“That’s not to sit on the bench,” Bielema said during Sunday’s media day press conference. “That’s to hopefully help us this year at fullback.”
Sophomore Sherard Cadogan exited spring camp as the team’s No. 1 fullback. He’ll continue to compete for the starting job the remainder of fall camp, and likely emerge as the starter come Sept. 1. Derek Straus and Kevin MacCudden are also expected to compete at the fullback position.
“We felt Derek could maybe give us something there that we don’t have right now,” Bielema said. “So we’re moving him to fullback.”
WIDE RECEIVERS MAKING A MOVE?
Jared Abbrederis is obviously going to play a major role in the success of the UW wide receiver position in 2012. But he’s going to need help from a worthy No. 2 receiver if he’s going to record numbers like he did a season ago.
If Monday’s morning practice served any indication, it’s that freshman Jordan Fredrick, and sophomore Kenzel Doe are emerging as the compliments to Abbrederis.
“Jordan (Fredrick) is a guy who is never going to be shortchanged on reps,” Bielema said. “He’ll be the first guy to jump up in that huddle if they need a player in there. He’s a hard worker. Not only is he catching the ball well, but he’s straining (to improve).”
Junior’s Manasseh Garner and Jeff Duckworth also received plenty of reps during Monday’s practice, but not quite to the extent both Fredrick and Doe did.
The Badgers will practice under the lights Monday night at 7:30 p.m. They’ll then return to the practice field Tuesday at 2:35 p.m. That practice is open to media members.