Gillins has look of Wisconsin's QB of the future
FEB 06, 2014 12:30p ET
MADISON, Wis. -- The future of Wisconsin's offense can't stay away from Andy Ludwig's office right now. He possesses so many questions and not nearly enough answers. D.J. Gillins is trying to make inroads, and the fact he cares so much so early shows promise.
"He's always knocking on my door," said Ludwig, the Badgers' offensive coordinator. "So that's a good thing."
Many fans want to believe in Gillins, a freshman who has the potential to drastically change what they have come to expect from the quarterback position at Wisconsin. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Jacksonville, Fla., native can sling the ball as well as anybody. But it's the second dimension -- his running ability -- that is particularly intriguing.
With his addition to the roster, it is clear Wisconsin's coaching staff has a different vision in mind at quarterback. And if Gillins proves as talented as coaches believe, it could create plenty of excitement in Madison.
"He's very raw in his quarterback techniques and mechanics," Ludwig said. "Those are things I feel very confident that I can help develop in him. What I can't coach him to do is run fast. He can do that. And throw it. He can do that. He's got a tremendous skill set. There just has to be some refinement and development."
Gillins is one of 25 scholarship players in the Class of 2014, which was officially announced Wednesday on National Signing Day. But he is one of four early enrollees in the class, which means he will start his development soon during spring practices.
Ludwig recognizes the importance of those extra sessions for a first-semester freshman, especially someone playing a position as complicated as quarterback.
"First of all, you don't have the pressure," Ludwig said. "You're not trying to name a starter that week or get ready for a game on Saturday. It's all the teaching and the learning. Everything can slow down and you can go at his pace a little bit. He doesn't have to learn the whole offense in 15 days, in 15 spring practices. We can cater it to him, what he needs to learn. Through the course of the summer, he'll learn another segment of it. By the time that fall camp comes around, he should have a pretty good grasp on the entire system."
To expect Gillins to take over as the team's starting quarterback in 2014 with a room as deep and as talented as the one Wisconsin has is probably asking too much. Badgers head coach Gary Andersen made it clear Wednesday that Joel Stave is still the team's starter and the position is "his spot to lose." Bart Houston and Tanner McEvoy also should challenge for the starting role, and that will create even fewer repetitions for Gillins.
"It's going to be very important that we give the quarterbacks an opportunity to compete in spring ball," Andersen said. "When I say that, there's only so many reps to go around. So we have got to construct practices in a way for D.J. to be able to compete and have an opportunity to be able to play and highlight what he brings to the table."
What Gillins brings to the table is the type of speed and athleticism that we rarely see in a quarterback at Wisconsin. Though Ludwig said Gillins thinks of himself as a drop-back passer who can run rather than a runner who can pass, his skill set is unique.
"There may be some opportunities to do some things where you can use him in certain situations or certain scenarios," Andersen said. "We'll see how that goes with D.J."
Gillins' numbers at Eagle's View Academy and Ribault High School were tremendous. Overall, he threw for 7,271 yards and 76 touchdowns. But he also ran for 602 yards and eight rushing touchdowns as a senior at Ribault. He tore an ACL as a junior but is fully recovered and shouldn't be hindered by the injury in college.
If and when Gillins can work his way into the lineup, he'll immediately become the best rushing quarterback at Wisconsin in years. Consider that Stave finished last season with minus-22 yards rushing. In fact, backup Curt Phillips was the leading rusher among quarterbacks with 11 yards. One year earlier, Philips was the team's leading quarterback rusher with 99 yards.
Ludwig made it clear he was not married to any specific offensive scheme, which very well could benefit Gillins. Wisconsin has traditionally been a play-action team that takes occasional shots down the field, and that is a staple that will continue, Andersen said. But the system is designed to fit the players' skills and abilities. And given Gillins' talents, coupled with the addition of five quick wide receivers, more athleticism could be on display soon.
"If we've got a guy that can throw and run, we're going to design plays to make him successful," Ludwig said. "If we've got a guy that can run and can't throw, you'd better find a system that gives him a chance to succeed. It's all player based in our system."
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