Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Badgers going mobile at quarterback
By Brian Bennett
It's no real secret that new Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen likes mobile quarterbacks. He put them to use at Utah State and has expressed his preference for guys who can extend plays and make things happen with their feet.
But if there were any remaining doubts about which direction the Badgers are headed under center, Andersen's recent recruitment should tell you everything you need to know.
Earlier this week, Wisconsin gained a commitment from D.J. Gillins, a four-star quarterback prospect from Jacksonville, Fla. ESPN.com ranks Gillins as the No. 13 dual-threat signal-caller in the 2014 class, and though he did miss last year with a torn ACL, the 6-foot-3, 185-pounder is known for having great quickness and escapability.
Quarterback Joel Stave, who might have the inside track on the starting job for 2013, does not possess a lot of mobility.
Earlier this offseason, the Badgers landed a verbal pledge from 2015 quarterback Austin Kafentzis, from Sandy, Utah. Kafentzis, who measures in at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, threw for 2,860 yards and ran for 1,689 yards last year as a high school sophomore. He ran for 1,377 yards as a freshman.
And, of course, Andersen brought in junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy back in February. McEvoy is a rangy 6-foot-5 athlete who can make things happen outside of the pocket. Some viewed him as the top dual-threat junior college quarterback last year. He'll compete for the starting job this August.
If you think the Badgers' quarterback picture is crowded now -- and it is -- just wait a couple of years. Joel Stave, who might have the inside track on the starting job for 2013, is just a redshirt sophomore, as is McEvoy. Bart Houston, the once highly touted prospect, is a redshirt freshman. Gillins will be a freshman in 2014, while Kafentzis will enter in 2015. Teams often like to pick up a quarterback in each class, so it makes sense, and with potential redshirts and unforeseen injuries, the spacing may work out. Yet it's hard to see how Stave, McEvoy and Houston will all co-exist going forward.
And you wonder if Stave, who does not possess a lot of mobility, will be the type of quarterback Andersen wants going forward. At Utah State the past two years, he started Chuckie Keeton after handing him the reins as a true freshman. Keeton ran for 618 yards and eight touchdowns last year for the Aggies.
Andersen had this to say last month when I asked him about McEvoy:
"He has the ability to hurt you with his arm, his mind and his legs, and that's important. Coming from a defensive background, I know that when a quarterback has all three of those, it's much more difficult to defend than if he only has one of the three or two of the three. It becomes a pretty vicious weapon."
It seems clear that Andersen wants guys who can do all three of those things. Don't expect any Denard Robinson-types or even the 2012 version of Braxton Miller at Wisconsin. Andersen has pledged to keep the Badgers' tradition of the power run game strong, and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig has a pro-style philosophy. What adding a mobile quarterback will do is give the Wisconsin offense an added wrinkle.
Andersen also isn't bringing in players who are just athletes standing in the shotgun. McEvoy completed 67.3 percent of his passes last year at Arizona Western. Gillins and Kafentzis have also been known for their accuracy. At Utah State, Keeton connected on 67.6 percent of his passes.
This new wave of Badgers quarterbacks could, in a perfect world, look like a version of Russell Wilson: players with great ability to get out of trouble and still find receivers down the field outside of the pocket. Wilson didn't run the ball all that much at Wisconsin, a product of both his unbelievable acumen in keeping his eyes downfield for the open man and the team's utter lack of depth behind him. A plethora of athletic options could allow Andersen to call more designed quarterback runs in the near future.
While many fans may think of Wisconsin as the land of huge offensive linemen, great running backs and game-managers at quarterback, this wouldn't be the first time in recent memory that the Badgers have had mobile quarterbacks. There was Wilson, of course. Tyler Donovan was a scrambler, and Brooks Bollinger allowed the team to run some option. Current sixth-year senior Curt Phillips, another candidate to start in 2013, was ticketed as a big-time dual-threat quarterback before multiple knee injuries robbed him of his speed.
In the future, a lot of Wisconsin's quarterbacks could look like what Phillips was supposed to become.