Bielema to current QBs: It's nothing personal
MADISON, Wis. — Well before Danny O'Brien's name surfaced as a possible transfer candidate at Wisconsin, Badgers coach Bret Bielema made certain his remaining crop of quarterbacks understood the recruiting climate within the program.
The gist of his message?
Hey, it's nothing personal.
Given the slew of injuries at the quarterback position in recent years, Bielema told them, he felt he had just cause to cover his bases. With returning players Jon Budmayr (elbow) and Curt Phillips (knee) still recovering from injuries, the coach didn't feel comfortable having just two healthy quarterbacks left.
That's why he met with his quarterbacks in December to keep them in the loop about possible transfers. At the time, the Badgers failed to land former Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist, who ultimately transferred to Kansas, but that didn't deter Bielema from later pursuing O'Brien.
On Wednesday, O'Brien officially announced his decision to transfer from Maryland to Wisconsin, where he'll enroll in a graduate program and have two years of eligibility remaining. Though Bielema won't hand a starting job to O'Brien in March, it's expected that he'll take over as the team's No. 1 signal caller, sending the rest of Wisconsin's quarterbacks down a peg on the depth chart.
"I talked to the quarterbacks first but then talked to the entire team," Bielema said of the situation before O'Brien's announcement. "The message was the same to both. Bottom line, I don't want to leverage the overall well being of our football team based on a catastrophic number of injuries at one specific position. It just happened to be the quarterback position that brought it up.
"I would do the same thing if it was a safety position, if it was a tailback, defensive end, defensive tackle. It's really just because of the situation that we're in."
Bielema indicated he became further convinced it was necessary to land a transfer when quarterback Bart Houston, a four-star commit in the 2012 recruiting class, underwent shoulder surgery this offseason and faced the likelihood of missing part of fall practice.
Bielema said before practice Thursday that he hadn't yet spoken to his quarterbacks since O'Brien's transfer became official. O'Brien — who said he didn't talk to the quarterbacks during his campus visit last Friday and Saturday — faxed over the transfer paperwork on Tuesday afternoon. Bielema and O'Brien kept the decision quiet until Bielema released a statement on Wednesday.
"He hasn't been promised anything, just like any other player in the program," Bielema said. "These guys were heavily involved in the recruiting process. We had him in town, I had mentioned before he came to campus that he was going to be on campus. We don't try to put an elephant in the room. We just try to be honest and upfront."
What does this mean for the remaining quarterbacks? It likely serves as a kick in the gut because they'll now be fighting for a backup position behind O'Brien.
Joe Brennan and Joel Stave are the only two healthy quarterbacks in spring camp and would appear to have the edge to be the backup over Phillips or Budmayr. Brennan served as the backup last year to Russell Wilson, who also transferred into the program after graduating from North Carolina State.
Bielema has taken one quarterback in each recruiting class since he became head coach at Wisconsin in 2006, and even with a second graduate transfer in two years, he doesn't anticipate his strategy changing.
Bielema said he didn't think the decision to bring in a graduate transfer quarterback yet again would deter high school quarterbacks from strongly considering Wisconsin, though he understands why recruits might question the validity of his sales pitch.
"One thing we always say in this program is if you always tell the truth, you never have to remember what you said," Bielema said. "We're speaking the truth because of the injuries we've had at that position that have brought us to this scenario two times in a row.
"I think people right away think it's going to affect the recruiting of a high school senior now. It really can't be any better because now you sell it to a high school senior quarterback, the fact (O'Brien) is going to be in here, possibly be a two-year starter if he does earn that position, then you have a chance to come in, redshirt for a year, watch a guy play and then come in."
Assuming, of course, there aren't more graduate transfers interested in playing at Wisconsin.
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