(As Fall Camp approaches us faster than youâ€™d think, we take a look at what to expect from each position group heading in to camp in our “Fall Camp Preview” series)
The 2014 season may have finished on a high note, but it was hard to imagine what couldâ€™ve been had the Wisconsin Badgers had a quarterback position that was settled and productive all season long. With the transition to head coach Paul Chryst well under way, there may not be a single position more affected by this transition than that of quarterback.
Not to say itâ€™s a bad thing, rather the hope is it will have the exact opposite effect and take the quarterback position to new heights. Heights that were positive during Chrystâ€™s tenure as offensive coordinator at Wisconsin.
Does Chryst have enough on the roster to make things work, or is this a season to get by until more promising talents emerge? That may be the question whose answer holds the key to where the Badgers go in 2015.
With that, letâ€™s take a look at the position that holds those answers in its hands â€” literally.
What We Know: Many thought that given then junior quarterback Joel Staveâ€™s struggles and Wisconsinâ€™s overall disaster at QB in 2014, Paul Chryst wold come in and open up the competition. Instead he did the exact opposite and named Joel Stave the starting quarterback before spring camp even started.
Stave appeared to reward Chrystâ€™s faith with a much more productive and attractive spring than anything we saw outside of the final quarter and overtime of the Outback Bowl win over Auburn. For all that went wrong last season, Stave enters 2015 with a 20-5 record as a starter (and finisher) and UW is 21-7 overall in games heâ€™s played in.
Those are numbers that are hard to ignore. So are the facts that he also ranks seventh all-time with 4,948 career passing yards, fifth in career completion percentage (58.7%), sixth in pass efficiency rating (132.2), and fifth with 37 career touchdown passes.
No doubt that Stave needs to be more of the person we saw in 2012 and 2013 than the player we saw in 2014, because that wonâ€™t cut it with the changes happening around him. Spring saw Stave much more of what the coaching staff hoped for than the 2014 version, so there is room for optimism. Now itâ€™s just about maintaining that level and building in to a quarterback Wisconsin can win with and not have to gameplan away from.
What We Need to Find Out: Stave may be the starter, but there is a major question of who will be the backup quarterback. On one hand there is now junior Bart Houston, who has showed little in the way of being the player that got everyone excited when he arrived on campus in 2012. On the other hand there is the surprising redshirt freshman D.J. Gillins.
Houston stepped up his mental game and Gillins showed he was much more comfortable behind center than anyone perviously thought. That made spring football so much more intriguing and it made the coaching staffâ€™s decision at the No. 2 spot on the depth chart something to ponder heading in to fall.
The smart money is on Houston, based on experience and comfort with a coaching staff that helped to recruit him to UW. He has the arm strength and the ability to make just about any throw, but heâ€™s still prone to a few mental mistakes. If he doesnâ€™t step up between spring and fall camps thereâ€™s plenty of room for Gillins to step in to that position.
Gillins brought a lot of the same attributes as a passer, but has one extra gear that could be intriguing to an old offensive coordinator â€” speed. The passing game, combined with his overall athletic ability, has Gillins making a hard push to become a future star at the position at UW. The question is, just how quickly can that promise turn in to production? If Gillins takes the same steps he did from winter to spring and makes them from spring to fall, he could be the person that surprises and wins the backup job.
No doubt this is one of the biggest storylines for the future of the program, as Stave is done following the 2015 season.
Player to Watch:Â D.J. Gillins, RS Fr.
We know plenty about Joel Stave, and those in attendance for practices and springs over the past four years know a bit more about what this coaching staff is going to get with Bart Houston. However, there was maybe no single offensive player that surprised more this spring than redshirt freshman quarterback D.J. Gillins.
He went from the person most likely to not fit in to Paul Chrystâ€™s offense, to a leading candidate to be Staveâ€™s backup. The competition behind Stave is going to be fun to see unfold, and Gillinsâ€™ progression from last fall to this spring was crazy. If he can keep up that level of progress from spring to fall, Wisconsin may have its long-term answer at quarterback from the most unexpected of players.
It will likely come down to Gillinsâ€™ abilities as a pocket passer, but make no mistake about it, his athletic abilities will be put to use should he prove to be capable of being a pass-first quarterback. All indications are that that transition is going just fine. Weâ€™ll see if it lasts in to fall camp, and if it does donâ€™t be surprised to see Gillins listed second on the depth chart for the Alabama game in Week 1.
Our Projected Starter(s): Joel Stave, Sr.