Late Thursday morning, the entire quarterback’s room (except for injured starter Jack Coan) joined a Zoom call with the Wisconsin Badgers media contingent. Coach Jon Budmayr and his proteges Chase Wolf, Danny Vanden Boom and Graham Mertz each answered questions for about 15 minutes and offered some insight as to how they were coping with the loss of Coan, potential breakout wide receivers and Mertz’s ascension to the starting gig.
I would first like to touch on “it.” I don’t exactly know how to define “it,” but whatever “it” is...Mertz has. The dude is effortlessly charming and comfortable with a Zoom full of crotchety jags (except for Jake, he’s an angel), answering all of our questions thoughtfully and with confidence.
It is really interesting to listen to Graham Mertz discuss leadership. He notes that everyone does it differently and how you can get on some guys and others you can't. An impressive set of observations for someone so young.— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 8, 2020
He seems wise beyond his years and sounds like he would command a huddle with a few words. Budmayr even said “Graham has a great presence in the huddle” during his availability. Every coach needs the quarterback to be the unquestioned leader of the offense, but they would also want the quarterback to be the unquestioned leader of the whole team. Mertz looks, and sounds, like a guy who will be standing in the middle of the locker room hyping everyone up before the game.
Mertz smiles when asked about what the defense has been doing to try and make things difficult for him.— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 8, 2020
Anyways, now that we got the gushing out of the way, let’s dive in to what else Mertz, Budmayr, Wolf and Vanden Boom had to say.
It is important to note what sort of strategic work the team has been doing during practice and Mertz pulled back the curtain a bit for us.
"You wanna win games? Score touchdowns, don't fumble it."— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 8, 2020
- Graham Mertz who is now, apparently, gunning for an analyst job at B5Q
While we are making jokes here, one very important thing that Coan did as starter was to limit turnovers. Budmayr said that was by design and it is something that Mertz, Wolf and Vanden Boom have to take seriously.
"We have to value the football. That's one thing that Jack did really well. He made it a priority to take care of the ball in practice and that carried over to games." - QB coach Budmayr on ball security— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 8, 2020
One area that will help Mertz with ball security is, uh, his brain. Vanden Boom mentioned that Mertz had improved there while also touching on Mertz’s God given ability.
"Mentally Graham has gotten a lot better. He's a very natural thrower of the football." - Vanden Boom on new QB1 Graham Mertz— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 8, 2020
Here are some other notes from the availability:
- All three quarterbacks mentioned freshman WR Chimere Dike as a player to watch. They all said he’s smart, athletic and asks a lot of precocious questions. The word “stud” was even thrown out.
"I heard people talking about Chim a little bit. To be honest, he's not that good." - Mertz joking about freshman WR Chimere Dike who has clearly impressed so far— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 8, 2020
- Coan was spoken of almost reverentially by everyone on the call. Budmayr noted that he “love(s) that kid,” and that Coan was the first one at practice on Sunday even after being hurt on Saturday. Vanden Boom said that Coan is now basically an additional coach for them. Wolf repeatedly said that Coan is “our leader” and “our guy.”
- Other young skill players that were mentioned by the QBs include freshman WR Devin Chandler and newly converted TE (from OLB) Jaylan Franklin.
- Budmayr said that the plans for the offense haven’t really changed with Coan out but that Mertz (and the others) need to develop “that muscle memory” before they’ll be fully confident under center.