Media gathered around Wisconsin Badgers quarterback coach Jon Budmayr on Tuesday morning after UW’s tenth spring practice inside Camp Randall Stadium.
The attention is warranted for Budmayr and his position group, as Wisconsin will start at the very least a less experienced quarterback for the 2019 season. Gone is Alex Hornibrook, intending to transfer to Florida State, leaving four players vying to lead the offense.
Rising junior Jack Coan has technically played in 11 games and played in five meaningful games (four starts) during the 2018 season. There is also Danny Vanden Boom and Chase Wolf who bring particular talents and strengths to the unit. Of course, mid-year enrollee Graham Mertz comes to Madison with significant potential and a significant hype train behind him.
All have shown the abilities to make some throws and display productivity for the offense during spring camp. Though Coan’s reps have been with the first-team in the five open practices available for the media to see, Budmayr explained that there is not chatter about the pecking order in his quarterback room.
“The beauty of the spring is that we have no conversations on depth chart,” Budmayr said. “We truly approach it to get better each day, and Jack certainly has the most experience of the group and I’ve loved his approach.”
Budmayr called out how Coan—who completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 515 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions in those five contests in 2018—returned from winter break and how’s worked through winter conditioning and “approached spring ball.” However, he also noted the goal for the four Badgers under his wing.
“He’s doing everything we ask of him. He understands what he has to get better at, and he understands what his strengths are that he needs to keep building on,” Budmayr said. “So I think I’d be disappointed if Jack wasn’t viewing himself as the starter, but from my point of view for the whole group, it’s ‘get better.’ Because if we get better each day, then we’re going to be a good team come fall camp, and that’s what we’re preparing for is fall camp. We’re not preparing for the season just yet.”
The number of reps that the all four quarterbacks receive now during these 15 spring sessions likely will change once fall camp hits and the time to find a starter becomes more imminent.
“I think naturally the spring is a great time where you earn reps for the fall, and so that’s why you got to get enough in the spring to where you can make a good decision on that,” Budmayr said. “But absolutely, once it comes fall camp, now you’re transitioning to where you’re preparing for the season. You got three weeks, and really you got about 20 practices to do that and so there’s limited reps. There’s not endless opportunities, and the guys get that. They know that. That’s why this is such a big spring for the whole group.
“But absolutely, you’re identifying. ‘OK now once we get into the fall, how do those reps get split up?,’ and you certainly earn them. You earn the right for more reps in the fall by how we do in the spring, but we’re still trying to learn each day and get better and improve. That’s what I’ve loved about the group is [that] their approach has been just that.”
Here are more highlights from the eight-plus minute chat Budmayr had with the media on Tuesday about Mertz. As an FYI, you will be able to hear all of it on B5Q’s podcast coming up on Wednesday night/early Thursday morning.
Of course, reporters asked questions about Mertz, the four-star, Elite 11 and The Opening Finals participant who enrolled at UW for the spring semester to begin his collegiate career.
On Mertz’s hype and how Budmayr’s sense of how he’s handled that especially since he’s come to UW:
“Yeah, he’s done well. What he does a great job of is being in the moment, and I think that helps him not look too far ahead—not look at what the future holds but truly just dive into it—and he’s done that since day one here. He did a great job. There was a lot of different obstacles he worked thorugh in the recruiting process to get here, and so he’s very mature. He’s allowed himself the opportunity to have success because of how he’s kept himself in the moment. That’s what I’ve appreciated the most out of him. He’s just diving in, wants to go to work and learn as much as he can.”
What has stood out about Mertz through the spring practices so far as a mid-year enrollee:
“I think he’s grasped the offense well. Everything we’re asking him to digest, he’s digested it well and now it’s just a matter of getting reps at it so that those windows become real and the timing becomes real. But one thing is he doesn’t have to think too much when he throws. He’s an accurate passer, and the ball goes where he wants it to go, and now it’s just a matter of adjusting to some of the speeds, some of the windows that get a little bit tighter at this level. Once he gets that, I think he’ll grow even more comfortable, but I’ve loved his approach, as with the whole group. They’ve been into it, and he’s just got to keep going and reps help that.”
Graham Mertz is handling all of the hype well, according to #Badgers QB coach Jon Budmayr. He says Graham is very mature and is focused on learning as much as he can this spring. #OnWisconsin pic.twitter.com/Nbn8FMbMHa— Melissa Y. Kim (@melissaykim) April 16, 2019
On Budmayr’s trips down to visit Mertz, and how it’s helped him:
“I think in recruiting such a big piece of it is relationships, and especially at our position, a big part of that is building trust because we got to have great trust when we communicate. ‘What did you see there, and did you not see it? Why did you make that decision?’
“There’s got to be a great amount of trust and where I’m fortunate, and all the guys on our staff are fortunate, is we build that process through recruiting, and it starts early. With Graham, it was no different. Through that, we were trying to obviously teach and get him a little bit up to speed but more than anything, continue to build out that relationship where trust is so key. Then once there’s trust and they know that you want to coach them and that you got their best interest at hand, then you can truly coach them and you can coach them to a high standard.”
On Mertz’s ability to making plays on the run:
“I think he has a good feel for extending plays, and Graham will be the first one to tell you after Saturday’s practice there were a couple of those that didn’t have to happen. He got off a read a little bit too quick, or he got a little bit of nervous feet when there wasn’t—it was kind of a ghost pressure. It wasn’t actually in his face, so although he made some great location throws, like I said, he’ll be the first one to tell you after watching the tape, ‘I could have hung in there and my intent was open,’ or ‘one in the progression was open, I didn’t have to get flushed.’
“But that’s the art of playing quarterback is the ability, to when it’s there, the protection’s clean, trust it. Cut it loose. Then when it’s not, if you can extend and avoid the negative plays and create something, then you got a good chance. I think he does a great job of that, and now I just want to keep tightening up the feet and the reads so that it’s when he has to and not when he doesn’t have to will be the big thing.”
On Mertz being young and surrounded by hype, and how he has been taking all the outside noise:
“Yeah, he’s very mature and I think a lot of that is from what he went through in high shcool because he was exposed to a lot of different media obligations. He was exposed to a lot of different personalities through a lot of different events that he went through, and so he understood what that was. He knows that it’s never as good and it’s never as bad, so he does a good job of keeping his head on straight. We have conversations about it. I try to help him but I don’t have to do much because he’s in a good place, and he came in, in a good place. His family and his parents have done a terrific job of raising him to build that foundation, and now it’s a matter of him of just staying true to who he is, and he’s done a great job of that so far.
Danny Vanden Boom and Chase Wolf
A lot of questions revolved around Mertz, but the last two that were asked pertained to Vanden Boom and Wolf.
In particular, Budmayr was asked what he believes what they do well, what he likes about them and what gives them a chance in the competition—and also how they have handled being potentially thought of as the “forgotten quarterbacks” to those outside the program.
“They’re certainly anything but forgotten in our room and to my approach,” Budmayr said. “I love having every guy in that room that we have right now. It’s a really good group and they’re into it. They’re competitive but respectful, so they appreciate it when good football is being played. They know how to learn from it when it’s not, but at the same time they’re competing, and they want to be the best of them. So Danny and Chase are absolutely in that same mold. That’s what you love about the group is they’re into it and very coachable.
“The strengths that they have, I think Danny, he has a great sense of who he is. He knows what throws he can make, what throws he can’t, and so when it’s a throw he can make, he cuts it loose. When it’s one that he can’t, he progresses through the play, and I think that’s one of his biggest strengths.
“Really with Chase, his strength is he can make any throw. Now it’s just a matter of when is that a good decision to make that throw. So you got to remember with Chase, this is his first spring ball, and so he’s getting the biggest amount of work that he’s had up to this point. I’ve loved his approach and the way that he’s gotten into it and been in the moment and tried to learn from mistakes. He’s done a great job of that and now we got to keep progressing.”