By TOM LEA
MADISON – The playing time odds are probably stacked against Wisconsin senior quarterback Curt Phillips this spring, simply because he’s trying to overcome three ACL surgeries that happened throughout a trying 13-month span encompassing his sophomore and junior seasons.
He’s one of just three quarterbacks on the current roster participating in UW’s 15-practice spring camp, but because of his checkered injury past he isn’t able to participate during drills requiring mobility or side-to-side movements.
He is able to throw the football, but he’s not able to do much else.
Phillips says he feels pretty good physically and that it’s nice to be back on the practice field, but he knows most of his progress this spring will rely heavily on what he’s able to accomplish between the ears.
“While I’m limited physically I’m trying to make the most of it mentally and capitalize on those mental reps,” Phillips said following Saturday’s practice. “The key is playing it day-by-day. You can’t worry about the long-term goal. You’ve just got to push as far as you can that day and come in the next day and play off that.
“If you’re really sore back off a little bit. If not you can push a little harder. I think that’s the key to it.”
Phillips’ situation is yet another example of how the injury bug has stung the most important position on the UW roster. Phillips continues monitoring the progress of his knee as junior Jon Budmayr still doesn’t know exactly what is going on with the nerve injury affecting his throwing elbow. The Badger junior hasn’t been able to practice since the early days of last fall camp.
And incoming freshman Bart Houston will be incredibly limited once he joins the program as he continues healing following a surgical procedure aimed at removing a shoulder cyst. That leaves sophomore Joe Brennan and redshirt freshman Joel Stave as the only completely healthy quarterbacks on the Wisconsin roster.
That reality might make it difficult for a player like Phillips, one who has logged extremely minimal playing time throughout his career after having entered the program as a highly touted four-star prospect out of Tennessee.
He could press and try to make up for lost time throughout spring camp but he seems to be too smart for that. He knows it wouldn’t be responsible to throw any progress he’s made by the wayside with hopes of making an impression in March.
Phillips understands that any playing time he might potentially earn isn’t going to come until his knee is absolutely 100 percent healed.
“You want to be out here and you want to compete,” Phillips said. “That’s the hard part. You’re that competitive that you have to pull yourself back a little bit. I think sometimes as far as throwing I’ve got to make the best read and get it out of my hands as fast as possible because my feet aren’t getting me back there like that should.
“You’ve got to not get frustrated with the easy things you can’t help and just make the most of it.”
The good news, as Phillips pointed out, is that every quarterback currently on the Wisconsin roster is in the same boat. None have played for new offensive coordinator Matt Canada and none have logged starting experience at the collegiate level. Everybody starts with a clean slate.
Realistically, though, the competition during spring camp centers entirely around Joe Brennan and Joel Stave and the progress they make over the course of the next month. Phillips, one of the more respected players on the Badgers roster, just needs to bide his time and make the most of his opportunity to make an impression on the younger players.
He can help the underclassmen just as they have helped him. That’s how he’s going to make his contribution throughout spring camp when he’s unable to physically participate the way he would undoubtedly like.
“We’ve got a good group,” Phillips said. “I think that’s something that’s always been the case since I’ve been here. The quarterbacks get along pretty well. Obviously it’s unfortunate not having Jon here. I wish he was with us, but everybody gets along and I think competition brings the best out of everybody.
“While I’m limited we’ve got two young guys taking all the reps. They’re going to learn a lot from it and it’s going to be fun to watch them.”