Winds of change have already run through Wisconsin’s quarterback room in 2019 with Alex Hornibrook leaving the program.
Gone is 32 starts of experience at the Division I level, and the southpaw will head to Florida State for his final year of eligibility. That leaves five quarterbacks with a combined 14 collegiate games played to compete for the starting spot, and due to the nature of the position in the sport, the battle for QB1 will likely be the most talked about and most-watched during spring ball.
What also will likely be followed closely? That would be the development and progression of a former four-star quarterback and current early enrollee.
Spring ball starts March 26, and B5Q will be there for those practices that are open to the media starting in early April.
Presumed 2019 spring roster for Wisconsin’s quarterbacks
- Jack Coan, junior; five games played (four starts) in 2018; 60.2 completion percentage, 515 yards, five touchdowns, three interceptions
- Danny Vanden Boom, redshirt sophomore; three games played in 2018; 100 percent completion percentage, three yards, one touchdown
- Chase Wolf, redshirt freshman; did not play in 2018
- Nate Carter, redshirt freshman (walk-on); did not play in 2018
- Graham Mertz, true freshman; earned Elite 11 status, Opening Finals participant, 2018 Gatorade Kansas state football player of the year, 2019 All-American Bowl MVP; threw for 3,886 yards and 51 touchdowns as a high school senior
Who to watch
Not to cop out here, but really, almost everyone in this position group. Coan comes into spring ball with the most experience of the group —11 games with four starts over two seasons that stands him apart from the others—and he showed progression in the fourth quarter of the triple overtime win at Purdue. Against Miami, the playbook appeared to open up more in a certain aspect (hello, tight end screen), and just how much more comfortable he looks in spring and fall camp will be something I will look at. It also will be interesting to watch in these upcoming practices the steps the rising junior takes in driving the ball downfield and continuing to perfect his timing with his receiving targets.
With all the clamor and hype for Mertz—a lot of attention placed on the true freshman after an illustrious prep career—Vanden Boom and Wolf should not be simply thrown away. I liked how Vanden Boom threw the ball in spring and fall camps during the 2018 season, and the Kimberly product found time on the field last year. He even threw his first touchdown pass of his collegiate career in mop-up time in Wisconsin’s second win of the year against New Mexico.
Wolf may just be the wild card of the group, as he did not enroll early last year and we did not see his play as much as Hornibrook, Coan and Vanden Boom last year. However, I liked his arm strength, and this will be a huge spring to show off how he can progress and what he can bring to the offense.
Then there is Mertz, who maybe strapped some NOS onto the hype train with his five-touchdown pass, All-American Bowl MVP performance in early January (yes, I’m a Fast and the Furious fan, why do you ask based on my metaphor). In late December, we chartered the waters of what the expectations should be for the true freshman, and I laid out my expectations for him earlier this year. There will be an adjustment period, one that he already is working through in participating in winter conditioning—but how he develops as the spring wares on, and if he can use it as a springboard for fall reps, will be something that is monitored.
Why fans should pay attention to this position this spring
I noted back in January that this quarterback competition will in all likelihood not be settled in the spring. What will be watched and looked at is the type of progression and development everyone makes from late March to late April in these 15 practices.
Spring ball can be used to help develop better chemistry with wide receivers, tight ends, and backs in the passing game. If there are mistakes, this is the time to make them. Coan and Vanden Boom, two third-year players, have the most experience of the group and should use these practices like they did last year in propelling their knowledge and proper execution of the offense.
However, there is more than just chucking the ball accurately and downfield at the position. What will also be interesting is how this relatively inexperienced group—Wolf and Mertz, in particular—executes the plays. So much goes into knowing and having their teammates lined up correctly, diagnosing and evaluating their progressions and protections at the line, among other factors. This will be critical for the younger players at this position, and spring ball should allow time for them to slow down the learning curve.
Here is what Mertz—who like Joel Stave, Hornibrook and Coan before him is taking advantage of spring ball to dive into his collegiate experience early—noted back in December to B5Q about what the quarterback needs to do at that position before the ball is even snapped:
“I’d go up [to Madison] and visit and take a bunch of notes, and then on these last home visits they can come down and I’d just take notes in my notebook about everything,” Mertz said. “So we’d start with formations, then formations lead to shifts and motions, then that led to pass protections, and then pass protections led to pass game. Then pass game led to run game, and then that led to run checks, so we have a whole checklist we went through. It started with personnel, too, so we’ve been getting after it a little bit on that sense.”
Expect a lot of growing in this position group in the next month before the competition really fires up in August for fall camp.