MADISON, Wis. — When Joe Brennan began spring football practices at Wisconsin in March, he held a promising opportunity to earn the No. 1 quarterback position entering fall camp.
But Brennan quickly lost out to teammate Joel Stave, who took over repetitions with the first-team offense. And now, it appears Brennan is lagging even further behind in the Badgers’ arms race as fall camp commences.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema spoke following Friday’s fifth fall practice and mentioned the play of Stave, Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien and redshirt senior Curt Phillips. He did not mention Brennan once.
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On Saturday, Bielema hinted at the possibility of Brennan transferring in the near future.
“Joey is behind,” Bielema said. “Those three guys have kind of stepped forward. Joey and I had a conversation last night. We’re going to talk over exactly where he’s at tomorrow. We’ll have a big personnel meeting on Sunday. There are guys on our roster that if they’re not where they want to be, I’m sure some decisions are going to have to be made.”
Brennan, a redshirt sophomore from Audubon, N.J., picked Wisconsin over scholarship offers from Duke, Miami (Fla.), Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Stanford and Temple. Last season, he appeared in six games in backup duty behind Russell Wilson and completed 6 of 15 passes for 48 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.
But inconsistency plagued Brennan throughout spring practices, allowing Stave, a redshirt freshman, to leapfrog him on the depth chart. During Wisconsin’s spring game, Brennan completed 2 of 11 passes for 24 yards, primarily playing with the No. 2 offense. Stave, by contrast, completed 14 of 25 passes for 135 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
“I feel you can never be complacent with your spot,” Brennan said during spring practice. “You always have to be competing. You can never be satisfied. I don’t think you can ever feel like, ‘Hey man, I arrived.’ With me, it’s a virtue that my mom instilled in me to get better each day, and no one is going to give you anything. You’ve got to go out and earn it each day.”
Phillips was limited during spring practice but is at full strength following a third ACL surgery on his right knee. O’Brien is a former Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year, and many presume he’ll be the opening game starter.
The high level of play from those two during fall camp, as well as the consistency demonstrated by Stave, have put Brennan in a hole. Bielema said Phillips, O’Brien and Stave were taking turns working through four- to six-play series on offense before rotating.
“Curt Phillips, Danny O’Brien and Joel Stave have really had days where they really looked good,” Bielema said. “Not that anybody has really looked bad, but each one of them has had a day that they’ve stepped to the forefront. The part that I’m excited about as a head coach is really over the last three or four years we’ve had a clearly defined (starter) and that was it. We really haven’t had the depth that I think we’ve got right now, which is a good thing.”
Bielema talks Ewing: Bielema said he hadn’t spoken to former Wisconsin fullback Bradie Ewing since he suffered a season-ending knee injury during an exhibition game Thursday night. But the two did exchange text messages Friday night.
“I did text him to try to lighten him up,” Bielema said. “I said, ‘On a lighter note, you’ve got a redshirt year you’ve never used.’ I know he got a little humor in that.
“Knowing Bradie, as we all know the big man upstairs only tests those who can handle it. Bradie is a tremendous man of faith. I think he’ll come back stronger than ever.”
Ewing, a fifth-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons, was injured during the first quarter during a Baltimore Ravens punt.
Place for Biegel: Freshman linebacker Vince Biegel is going to be a difficult player to keep off the field. The question as fall camp progresses is where, exactly, to put him.
Biegel is a tough, physical player who could find a place on the Badgers’ special teams unit this season. But Bielema eventually sees Biegel as a pass-rushing outside linebacker.
“During my time of being here, he’s probably athletic as any linebacker that’s got the length,” Bielema said. “I know he’s under the offensive guys’ skin because he can make some plays. He goes 100 miles an hour every play, whether it’s the first play or a repeat, whatever it is.”
Wisconsin is set this season with Mike Taylor, the Big Ten’s leading tackler last season, at weak side linebacker. Ethan Armstrong and A.J. Fenton are battling on the strong side.
Still, Bielema said when he watched individual drills in which Wisconsin’s running backs went 1-on-1 against the linebackers, Biegel stood out.
“You can ask James White tomorrow how hard he is to block,” Bielema said. “James was struggling with that one.”
Biegel, a Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., native, was rated as one of the top high school outside linebackers in the country. As a high school senior last season, he tallied 172 tackles, 21 sacks, three interceptions, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and scored two defensive touchdowns.