Football team set for annual spring scrimmage

first_imgAJ MacLean/Herald photoThe Wisconsin Badgers football team will play its annual spring football game Saturday at 1 p.m. at Madison La Follette’s Lussier Field. This marks the second consecutive season the Badgers have played at Lussier Field while Camp Randall undergoes renovations. Last year’s starter John Stocco will take to the pocket for the first-team offense, while redshirt sophomore Tyler Donovan will start for the second-team offense. Backups Craig Meier and Bryan Savage will take the remaining snaps as they jockey for a position on next season’s depth chart. While Donovan will surely see time with the first-team offense during the intrasquad scrimmage, the decision to start Stocco appears to have cemented the junior’s place as next year’s starting quarterback.“He has a lot of good experiences to fall back on,” Wisconsin quarterbacks coach Jeff Horton said. “He did a lot of things right for us last year. We’ve got to get him more consistent throwing the ball, and he’s really spent the time in the offseason to work on that. I expect to see a big jump between his sophomore and junior years.”It was at this time last season that Stocco made the biggest jump of his young career. With a solid performance in the 2003 finale against Iowa, Stocco entered spring practice last year sparing with senior Matt Schabert for the 2004 starting job. While it appeared the sophomore would win the position entering the spring, Stocco wasted no time cementing his hold on the position. The Richfield, Minn., native outplayed his senior counterpart all spring, quickly becoming a fan favorite and the new face at quarterback that would lead the Badgers into 2004. Oh, what a difference a season makes.With one starting season in the books, Stocco is no longer enjoying the endless love exuded by fans last year. Instead, the quarterback finds himself again fighting during spring practice — not for a job, but for respect from the fans.Some have been quick to jump on Stocco for his performance last season, claiming the then-sophomore did little to spark the offense. Yet Stocco looks at his experience — fan criticism and all — as an advantage for this season.“It’s always hard your first time in there, but experience helps you so much,” Stocco said. “The more experience you get, the more it’s going to help you. I’ve been in pretty much every situation now. I’ve played very well, and I’ve played not very well.”But as quickly as the critics jump on his performance, Horton is equally quick to discuss the positive qualities the junior demonstrated last year.“He eliminated sacks (we cut them in half from the year before); he protected the football; he had only seven interceptions, which is way down from where we’ve been in years past,” Horton said.Still, numbers aren’t everything. Last season Stocco enjoyed the luxury of playing with a bevy of savvy veterans as he worked to learn the offense. But this year is different. With a season of experience under his belt, coach and player both acknowledge the latter’s need for an increased presence in the huddle.“It’s a little bit different of a situation this year,” Stocco said. “Now I’m one of the older guys, and we’ve got some younger guys coming up. So I feel like my leadership role has gotten bigger. I feel like playing quarterback, you’ve got to be a leader. That comes with the territory.”But while Stocco understands and embraces his increased responsibility, Horton remains diligent in his attempt to increase the junior play caller’s leadership qualities.“Just because you’re the starting quarterback, that’s not good enough. You’ve got to be a leader on this football team,” Horton said. “I think those are things that he’s tried to work on and exude through the offseason and through spring practice.”The same can be said of Donovan. After seeing sporadic playing time behind the durable Stocco last year, Donovan needs to step up in his second season as Wisconsin’s top backup play-caller.Donovan has shown an increased understanding of the offense since the end of the fall season. While play calls, blitz recognition and pocket presence have all improved Donovan, the Hartland, Wis., native still has a long way to go.“As his position coach, I’m not totally comfortable playing him for long stretches until he proves to me that he knows exactly what is going on,” Horton said. “He’s one play away from being the guy that has to lead us to victory.”But Donovan is on his way. After admittedly struggling with the flood of information he was forced to digest last season, the sophomore is slowly grasping his offensive responsibilities while getting back to basics.“I’ve got the reps and everything, and I just feel a lot more comfortable. Just knowing my progressions and [those] types of things really helps,” Donovan said. “I’m just playing football again, playing like I’m in the backyard because I know what I’m supposed to do.”Stepping into Stocco’s fan-favorite shoes this year has been Savage. Though young and inexperienced, Savage’s physical abilities combined with the intangibles he possesses have endeared him to fans. But Horton is quick to caution that the freshman is far from ready. “He’s a true freshman that didn’t run any of our plays last year. He ran everybody else’s plays, and he’s still trying to understand a little bit what we are trying to do,” Horton said. “That’s something that will come.”last_img read more