Badgers' Tanner McEvoy prepares for QB battle

BY foxsports • August 2, 2013

MADISON, Wis. -- Three days before fall practices begin, and the true talents of Wisconsin quarterback Tanner McEvoy remain a mystery. We have heard about his knack as a mobile threat, about his switch from wide receiver to quarterback in high school, about his wildly successful exploits at a junior college in Arizona.

We have heard he could be the solution to an offense with read-option looks. We have heard he could be the future of Wisconsin football. He is, after all, the only scholarship quarterback brought on board by the team's new coaching staff. Then again, he is also guaranteed nothing, as more experienced quarterbacks Joel Stave and Curt Phillips fight alongside him for the same snaps.

Three days before fall practices begin, and what do we really know about how McEvoy fits in at Wisconsin? Bupkis.

It's one thing to throw for 417 yards and five touchdowns for Arizona Western against the Scottsdale Community College Artichokes. It's another to win a Big Ten starting job and dominate against the Ohio State Buckeyes in front of 102,000 fans on primetime television.

McEvoy, like everyone else, is just as curious to find out what unfolds at practice over the next four weeks.

"I'm really looking forward to it," McEvoy said Friday during Wisconsin's preseason media day. "Any school you go to, there's going to be competition for any position. That's what sports are about. That's what football is about. And I'm looking forward to going out there and seeing what happens."

Without a doubt, McEvoy has a lot to prove and a short amount of time to make an impression. Phillips and Stave, who combined to start 11 games last season, each had the advantage of 15 practices during spring camp to acclimate themselves to the new coaching staff's scheme. McEvoy, meanwhile, didn't arrive on campus until the summer.

"He's working hard," Badgers wide receiver Kenzel Doe said. "Right now, he really doesn't know the playbook like Stave and Curt, but you can tell he's trying. Sometimes we might sit down and try to go over the playbook because I might know it a little bit. I might not know as much as the quarterbacks because they have to know protection. He'll ask me, 'What's on the backside of this play?' I'll tell him.

"He'll go through and he's been working hard to try to compete with Stave and Curt. In camp, it's going to be a tremendous battle."

Badgers coach Gary Andersen has said McEvoy will get every opportunity to compete for the starting job. But McEvoy also doesn't have near the same pressure to succeed immediately as the last two Wisconsin quarterback transfers, Russell Wilson and Danny O'Brien, who both had already excelled in major college football.

"He has to shrink the gap between what he knows and what the other guys know," Andersen said of McEvoy. "They had the three weeks when they were still in school.  . . .

"Tanner has a lot of ground to make up just like any junior college kid does. How much Tanner has handled that since he's been here, we're about to find out."

McEvoy, a 6-foot-6, 223-pound dual-threat signal caller from Hillsdale, N.J., began his college career at South Carolina but left near the start of fall camp in 2012 when it became apparent he wouldn't play for at least the next two seasons. At the end of the previous spring, following a redshirt season, he was fourth on the team's quarterback depth chart.

While at Arizona Western, McEvoy became one of the top junior college quarterbacks in the country, passing for 1,943 yards with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also ran for 414 yards and scored six touchdowns and was named first-team all-conference. His most appealing attribute at Wisconsin, it would seem, is his ability to roll out of the pocket and gain yards on the ground.

"An athletic quarterback adds a dimension to the game," Wisconsin offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. "You don't have to always have the perfect play because the guy is going to get out of a lot of things. It may not have gone just the way you want them to. There's a real advantage to having a guy that can make a play with his feet."

If Wisconsin indeed makes a commitment to McEvoy, coaches believe he'll have plenty of upside because he has only played quarterback for three years. While at Bergren Catholic High School in New Jersey, he played wide receiver and defensive back until his senior season. When he switched to quarterback, he passed for 2,264 yards with 32 touchdowns, rushed for 1,196 yards with 14 touchdowns and was named the 2010 New Jersey Offensive Player of the Year.

"I've been asked the question if I still think I'm a receiver or a quarterback," McEvoy said. "But I've moved on to quarterback. I still think I can throw. I still think I can run. Whatever way you've got to get the ball in the end zone, you've got to do it. That's what I bring to the table, I think."

McEvoy said he spent the summer throwing five days a week -- three times during team 7-on-7 drills and two more times outside of organized team activities. He also was paired with Phillips as part of Andersen's "Big Brother Program," which matches an upperclassman with an incoming player to help them adjust to college life.

Andersen noted that while the relationship between McEvoy and Phillips -- who are competing for the same job -- could be delicate, he hoped it would help bring out the competition in them.

"We started to develop a friendship I've noticed over the past couple weeks during the summer," McEvoy said. "It's a competition. He knows the best man is going to win. It's no hard feelings or anything like that. I'm glad he's not taking it in the wrong way of me coming here."

McEvoy already has had to deal with his first major distraction since arriving in Madison. Two weeks ago, he was the victim of a robbery while walking downtown around 1:45 a.m. McEvoy had his wallet, watch and iPhone stolen and was treated for two head cuts.

"I was just by myself," McEvoy said. "I was just in the wrong spot at the wrong time. That's just how things work out. I'm back to being perfectly healthy and nothing came from it, so it's not a big deal."

McEvoy, of course, would prefer making headlines on the football field. Now, he'll get his chance. And the mystery surrounding his skillset at Wisconsin will finally vanish once and for all.

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