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Wisconsin 2017 spring football preview: Alex Hornibrook leads Badgers quarterbacks

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Spring practices should give a glimpse at the abilities of Karé Lyles and true freshman Jack Coan.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

[Update, Mar. 16: Positions, heights and weights are now updated from the released 2017 spring roster from the first spring practice, and position overviews have been revised to align with information published on UWBadgers.com on Mar. 13.]

Two months have passed since the Wisconsin Badgers closed out their 2016 season with a 24-16 win over Western Michigan in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. That means it’s time for spring football, which starts on March 14 for UW players and coaches.

Gone is Bart Houston, but redshirt sophomore Alex Hornibrook returns to lead the Wisconsin offense and is the only quarterback on the roster to have experience at the college level. As noted by UWBadgers.com’s Andy Baggot prior to spring practices, he will be the starter for the 2017 season.

Behind him are talented freshmen—including a pair of early enrollees the past two seasons—who look to continue their progression in Paul Chryst’s offense and gain momentum heading into fall camp.

Note: Height and weight measurements below are from UWBadgers.com, either from the 2017 roster or National Signing Day.

Wisconsin’s 2017 Quarterbacks

Quarterback 2017 Year Height Weight Hometown
Quarterback 2017 Year Height Weight Hometown
Alex Hornibrook R-SO 6'4 213 West Chester, Pa
Karé Lyles R-FR 6'0 224 Scottsdale, Ariz.
Jack Coan FR 6'3 199 Sayville, N.Y.
Danny Vanden Boom FR 6'5 200 Kimberly, Wis.

2016 Leaders

Alex Hornibrook: 106-for-181 (58.56 percent), 1,262 yards, nine touchdowns, seven interceptions, 125.81 passer efficiency

Bart Houston: 96-for-141 (68.09 percent), 1,245 yards, five touchdowns, three interceptions, 149.70 passer efficiency

Key Departures

Houston (eligibility)

Early Enrollees

Jack Coan

Key Additions for 2017

Danny Vanden Boom

Position Overview

Hornibrook will look to continue to evolve his game in his third year in Chryst’s offense. The West Chester, Pa., native pushed Houston last spring and fall to the point Wisconsin utilized a two-quarterback system, one that helped the team win 11 games last season.

The southpaw relieved Houston during the Georgia State game and provided a spark in the close win against the Panthers, then the week after in UW’s 30-6 blowout win against Michigan State in East Lansing. There were some growing pains for the then-redshirt freshman with a tough performance against Michigan (9-of-25 passing, 88 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions) and dealing with injuries against the Wolverines and the regular-season finale against Minnesota.

Houston may have been the more accurate passer statistically last season (and really put together a remarkable final five games of his college career), but Hornibrook has repeatedly displayed a nice touch on deep passes and has a chance to make an impact at the position for the next few seasons.

It’s worth watching how he develops in his second year as a starter in Chryst’s offense. Will he make as big of a jump as Scott Tolzien did between 2009 and 2010? Considering Hornibrook has three years left of eligibility, his progression heading into fall camp and the 2017 season should be intriguing. The offense also returns key members at each position group from last season, plus Pitt transfer Chris James could combine with Bradrick Shaw to pick up where Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale left off.

There are only three scholarship quarterbacks currently on the roster and behind Hornibrook, freshmen Kare Lyles and Jack Coan should be able to gain meaningful reps during the spring.

Lyles, who showed a live, strong arm during his prep career at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., redshirted after enrolling early last January. He didn’t participate in spring practice last year due to a hip injury. He’ll have that advantage of learning Wisconsin’s offensive system for two semesters over Coan, an early enrollee himself for the class of 2017 who is the Long Island, N.Y., all-time prep leader in passing yards and touchdown passes.

This time is critical for both Badgers backups to test their limits and continue to progress. Spring practices allow players to see what they can or can’t do, as Chryst has mentioned before. How this sets both up for fall camp, either to challenge each other for the lead backup spot or to find a way to challenge the incumbent Hornibrook—the latter of which appears won’t be the case for 2017—will be worth watching.

One snap can change either Lyles’s or Coan’s role in the game, and with the depth at this position being young and untested behind Hornibrook, reps this spring should help both develop.