The Wisconsin Badgers suffered some unfortunate news this weekend, as quarterback Tanner Mordecai broke his hand in an injury that caused him to undergo surgery on Sunday, leaving him out for the foreseeable future.
As a result, the Badgers are going to Braedyn Locke as their starting quarterback, but the major questions at the position don’t involve him; instead, they revolve around the backup quarterback spot, which also features a number of redshirt freshmen quarterbacks.
Who is next in line for the backup spot?
In their weekly depth chart, the Badgers named Myles Burkett as the backup, but head coach Luke Fickell clarified that both he and redshirt freshman transfer Nick Evers will get opportunities this week in practice to prove themselves.
“I mean, we don’t really know,” Fickell said about the backup spot. “I mean, I know Myles is listed as the backup, and I know we talked about this yesterday, and we’ll see who this week really kind of picks up the slack a little bit and gets their opportunities to go in there with the second group, whether that’s against the defense or that’s in some of the scout work stuff, and to see who kind of takes the bit there.”
However, it’ll be a tough balancing act for the Badgers, as their backup quarterbacks each have differences, making the evaluation harder to grasp when comparing the two, especially when considering the lack of experience.
“But, as you get into those guys, there are some differences, obviously, with what it is that they can do and what they’re most comfortable doing, none of which have much experience of playing, but all have different talents,” Fickell said. “So, you feel like when you’re consistent about at least what you’ve put in from the time spring ball forward, all guys have to have a grasp of the things that we’re doing.”
“But, each of them, obviously, being young, have a uniqueness to a lot of the things that they can do.”
Sometimes, when it comes to quarterbacks and their backups, teams opt to go for options similar to their starters in order to have parity and a better transition, should any change be needed.
Will Wisconsin utilize that as a factor in deciding the backup to Locke this week?
“No, I don’t know that because I think all those guys are uniquely a bit different,” Fickell said in response. “Meaning, not that Braedyn’s really old, but I think just in where they are in the grasp of the overall scheme of things. And I mean that because you can study it, you can work it, you can learn it.”
Fickell pointed out how the lack of experience for each backup option, given the number of quarterbacks on the depth chart, means that their development hasn't been seen on the field as much.
“When you don’t get the opportunity to even go out there and practice every week, whether you’re running with the twos or even in fall camp, when you’re competing more so with the ones and the twos, it’s hard to say that you’re developing as much as you need to at that position,” Fickell said.
That lack of experience is what makes the decision for that third quarterback tough, as a majority of those reps are either scout team or even mental reps, which is why it’s going to be an open competition.
“And that’s what’s to me, always the most difficult thing about that third quarterback is how much opportunities does he get, how many reps does he get even in there during a game week? If they’re not down with the scout [team] running and doing some things, they’re really just getting mental reps down there with the offense,” Fickell said. “So that’s why it’s kind of a competition to see now one put in there who can do the little things really well, not just what their skill set is, but who can take care of the football, who understands what it is. That is what needs to be done.”
What factors will be the determinants for who ultimately wins the backup job?
It starts with taking care of the football, Fickell mentioned, and not placing your time in difficult situations, in a way serving as a consistent game manager.
“Well, it’ll be who can take care of the football, and we do enough with ones on ones and twos on twos just to make sure we’re continuing to play the speed of the game, that you’ll see some of those things,” Fickell said about the backup.
“And even during a normal week, we go threes a little bit and just some situational stuff. And those guys are always kind of rolling through there and you get to see who understands some things, but also who can take care of the football, who can not put yourself in a really difficult and a worse situation than maybe than you already are in. I think that’s where when making a decision, it’s going to come down to who’s going to give us the best opportunity to manage what it is that we need to do.”
The Badgers have a number of challenges ahead of them this week, as they'll look to sort out their quarterback questions, both with their starter and the backup, ahead of a road matchup against the Illinois Fighting Illini this weekend.