By TOM LEA
MADISON – Wisconsin’s projected starting center Travis Frederick doesn’t have the benefit of working out exclusively with senior quarterback Curt Phillips during the team’s ongoing summer conditioning drills, but he’s steadfast in his demeanor when he says Phillips has a chance to compete for the starting quarterback job most have conceded to incoming transfer Danny O’Brien.
Phillips, if you remember, suffered three torn ACL injuries to the same knee during a 13 month span dating back to 2010-11. He didn’t compete last year, opting to focus entirely on rehabbing the seriously injured knee that could have cost him his career.
Now, more than 15 months separated from his last significant injury, Phillips seems to be making progress. Head coach Bret Bielema mentioned that he expects Phillips to be healthy enough come fall camp to compete without many, if any, reservations.
Frederick, speaking at the Legends Golf Classic at Wisconsin’s University Ridge golf course, said Phillips and his relentless pursuit to get back into the fray have impressed him.
“When we’re taking snaps or what not he’s the guy taking the leadership role,” Frederick said. “He wants to be the guy. I’ve seen him working out and doing things the right way and working as hard as I’ve ever seen him work.
“I think he’s ready to get back in the mix.”
The addition of a healthy Phillips would be welcome for a position that returns minimal experience. Joel Stave, who passed Joe Brennan on the depth chart by the end of spring camp, has not played in a single game throughout his career. He spent last year, his first season in Madison, redshirting.
Brennan, who has work to do to pass Stave, played mop up duty several times a year ago, but by no means has proven he’s capable of producing at a high enough level to get wins on a given Saturday.
O’Brien, who most think will earn the starting gig, is on campus and currently working out with the team. That’s something Russell Wilson, UW’s quarterback from a season ago with a very similar story to O’Brien, never did. He didn’t get onto campus until early July and didn’t start working with the team until fall camp started in August.
So O’Brien has a bit of a head start to figure out the intricacies of Matt Canada’s playbook.
“I think Danny is excited to get the chance to come in and try his hand at it,” Frederick said. “I’m excited to see how the other quarterbacks handle it this year. I think a lot of them have taken it as a personal challenge to them. They have really stepped up their game over the summer.
“I’m excited to see Curt, Brennan and Stave play. It’s going to be fun to watch the competition between them.”