MADISON, Wis. — First thing’s first: Tanner McEvoy would like to let it be known that he’s still a quarterback.
He just isn’t a quarterback right now.
“Every position has different ups and downs,” he said. “But I love playing quarterback. I’m still going to try it when this is all good.”
“This” is a broken bone in his left wrist, which made his task even more difficult. McEvoy broke his scaphoid, a small bone at the base of his left thumb, during the team’s second scrimmage of fall practice while playing quarterback. Although he underwent surgery to insert a screw nearly three weeks ago, he still wears a small cast on the wrist for safety measures.
The injury prevented him from being able to take snaps under center, though he was clearly behind quarterbacks Joel Stave and Curt Phillips at that point. He briefly moved to wide receiver, but catching passes with a bum wrist wasn’t exactly easy, either.
So now, just two months into his stint at Wisconsin, he is on to his third different position: safety.
“I prefer offense,” McEvoy said. “But I’m all for playing safety. If they moved me to nose guard, I wouldn’t be much of a fan. But I don’t see that happening soon, so I’m not too worried. I’m enjoying it. It’s a lot of fun.”
It certainly isn’t a position McEvoy envisioned for himself when he transferred from Arizona Western College this summer as a highly regarded dual-threat quarterback. That being said, he also is happy to help out in any way he can, provided it means he can see the field.
“I realize that with my hand like it is with a cast on it, I’m not able to do much on offense,” McEvoy said. “It was just common sense.”
McEvoy, at 6-foot-6 and 223 pounds, is a natural athlete on the football field, which has made his transition from offense to defense easier than some might think. He last played safety regularly as a junior in high school, yet he displays the necessary intelligence and speed to succeed.
Last Saturday, he earned his first extensive action at safety in four years, and it just so happened to come at No. 4 Ohio State. All McEvoy did was record four tackles, which tied for fifth-best among the Badgers’ defensive players.
Wisconsin safeties coach Bill Busch said of the 68 defensive snaps Wisconsin played against Ohio State, McEvoy was on the field for 41.
“He’s done a great job,” Busch said. “The biggest thing he’s done is really bought in. He broke his wrist and had that surgery on it, so he couldn’t take a snap, couldn’t do those things on offense. It was like, ‘Let’s get something out of it.’ I’m like, ‘I’ll take him.’ He can cover so much ground on the post and he’s got natural ball skills. So we liked that.”
Busch said McEvoy played seven or eight snaps one week earlier against Purdue, primarily in third-down passing situations to get him acclimated to the speed of the college game. He likely would have played some safety against Tennessee Tech or Arizona State, but he was still recovering from surgery, which occurred just two days before the Tennessee Tech game.
Badgers coach Gary Andersen acknowledged putting McEvoy into a game the magnitude of Ohio State was “definitely risky,” but he and Busch felt it was the best move for the team.
“Who would have thought that in July, huh?” Andersen said. “We needed to get some athletes on the field. We really thought that. Bill and I kind of communicated about that early in the game. Thought we’d give us an opportunity to get as big and as long and as fast as we could in the back end at all the different positions that we’re playing.”
McEvoy played as a third safety on the field against Ohio State, with Michael Caputo moving down to play a field linebacker spot — a role Andersen said the team would continue with moving forward. McEvoy comes in especially handy against quicker teams that use three wide receivers such as Ohio State and Wisconsin’s next opponent, Northwestern.
McEvoy noted he was learning more about the Badgers’ defense each week while at safety, and he gained great confidence with his four-tackle game against Ohio State. On one third-quarter drive, McEvoy recorded three of his tackles in the span of six plays.
“Playing quarterback, you have to know the coverages,” McEvoy said. “I know everything about the coverages. It’s just like little footwork stuff I’ve been trying to learn and run fits. But tackling is the same. At least in college, it’s kind of easier. Everything moves faster, so you can’t get too badly juked out. Plus I’ve got (linebacker Chris) Borland to help out.”
McEvoy figures to be used at safety more as the season continues. And when it ends, he’ll likely return to his favorite position of quarterback and vie for playing time alongside Stave, Bart Houston and incoming freshman D.J. Gillins.
Busch said he’d already had discussions with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig about McEvoy returning to quarterback next season.
“That’s fine,” Busch said. “We didn’t recruit him to be a safety. But right now, this is where we are because of all the time he couldn’t do anything at quarterback. So, I’m sure the offense will have him back and go from there.”
For McEvoy, it will be a welcome return. And the next time around, he is hoping for better results as a quarterback at Wisconsin.
“It’s not really starting over,” McEvoy said. “When I first got here, that was starting over. I know the offense — at least the majority of it. I can still throw. I’m not too worried.”