MADISON—Alex Hornibrook spent his 2017 spring break in San Diego. Not a bad location for a week of sun near the Pacific Ocean, only he wasn’t necessarily relaxing.
The Wisconsin Badgers’ starting quarterback continued training during the week-long exodus from classes. From March 17-24, the southpaw stayed on the West Coast to work with noted quarterback guru George Whitfield, Jr.
“A lot of stuff that isn’t like changing your whole mechanics,” Hornibrook told reporters about the workouts on Tuesday. “You’ve been throwing one way your entire life, so it’s just a lot of doing one thing to kind of make something better. Obviously, he’s known for using brooms and a lot of the avoidance drills that he does are a little different for pocket awareness.”
Whitfield, Jr. has worked with the likes of NFL quarterbacks Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and James Winston. Hornibrook trained primarily on a field down in California, though he did hit the beach as well. He described “dropping through the waves” for stability and working on footwork in the sand.
There was also the chance to meet Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL first round draft pick Johnny Manziel.
“I just met him briefly,” Hornibrook said. “We were working out and he trains with George, too, so he was out there on the beach. We weren’t training together or anything, but he was out there after the workout.”
It was not the first time Hornibrook has trained with Whitfield, Jr., as he worked with him during winter break after Wisconsin’s 24-16 win over Western Michigan in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic.
Hornibrook said he worked to improve every area in the off season, but specifically mentioned timing, rhythm, reading coverages and pocket awareness.
It has shown.
Since the start of spring practices two weeks ago, Hornibrook has looked crisper after being named starter by head coach Paul Chryst. On Tuesday, he was sharp for most of practice, completing passes around the field and stretching the defense. He found redshirt senior tight end Troy Fumagalli and sophomore wide receiver A.J. Taylor on a couple of nice receptions.
The one blip came during a team drill where the offense had to move the chains. He may have completed two of six passes during that set (unofficially), but during that time also hit sophomore wide receiver Quintez Cephus on a pass that turned into big gain after the catch.
Hornibrook’s throws have appeared stronger than what was seen on the field last season, whether needing some extra “zip” in his throws or airing it out to the third level of the defense.
“I think it’s the whole thing, starting with the feet, and that’s a big thing for me,” Hornibrook said, “getting my base right and not getting too tall in the pocket. Trying to keep a good base and that’ll help with movement, throws, everything.”
Entering his second year as a starter, Hornibrook has impressed early on. Offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph pointed to one thing that he’s seen from his third-year quarterback.
“I just think confidence,” Rudolph said on Tuesday. “It’s not words, it’s not lines on a page. He’s excited to bring things to life. It’s a confidence in the huddle, and it’s a confidence when things go well, and it’s a confidence when things don’t go well. I think it’s really steadying for this offense, and the guys have a lot of confidence in him.”
- First-team offensive line of Tuesday appeared to be, from left tackle to right tackle: David Edwards, Micah Kapoi, Michael Deiter, Beau Benzschawel, Patrick Kasl
- Speaking of Edwards, the redshirt sophomore has moved up in weight from 260 pounds last spring to 285 before the 2016 season. He’s now up to 305 after adding 10 more pounds to his frame. Does he plan to add more? “I’m done gaining weight,” he said with a smile.
- Early portion of practice had some special teams work with the kickoff returners. It appeared seniors Natrell Jamerson and George Rushing, along with sophomore wide receiver A.J. Taylor and redshirt junior running back Chris James also receiving some reps.
- Watching the defensive linemen, junior nose tackle Olive Sagapolu had a nice pass break-up and a “sack” during some team drills. Redshirt freshman Isaiahh Loudermilk stood out to me when the back-ups faced off in the “move the chains” aspect later in practice. It seemed like he was in the backfield many times.
- Hornibrook had the best day out of the quarterbacks. Redshirt freshman Kare’ Lyles appeared to throw two interceptions in practice -- one by senior defensive back Lubern Figaro and the other to outside linebacker Christian Bell.
- Wide receiver Ricky Finco has also appeared to cut his hair short, which now opens up the race for who has the best hair on the team.