MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Paul Chryst instituted at least one noticeable change in the offseason that could pay off in his first training camp as Wisconsin’s head coach.
There is no quarterback controversy this time around in Madison. Joel Stave is the unquestioned starter.
“I think he’s earned that right,” Chryst said Sunday at Camp Randall Stadium. “I think that Joel is in a real good spot.”
So when the Badgers hit the field for fall camp for the first time on Monday, Stave won’t be wondering about where he stands on the depth chart. Stave doesn’t need to worry about whether a bad throw or the wrong read during a drill might set him back in a quarterback derby.
Chryst, known as a quarterback guru, has tabbed the senior to lead the offense in its first year under a new system.
“Now is the time to really test yourself, and if you’re going to screw up, screw up in practice,” Stave said. “Now is a really good time to be able to learn this offense and learn the guys around me.”
In his return to Wisconsin, Chryst has brought stability to the quarterback position.
A former Badgers offensive coordinator, Chryst came back following three years as head coach at Pittsburgh. The job opened in December when Gary Andersen bolted after two seasons to take the same job at Oregon State.
Under Andersen, Stave competed with the mobile Tanner McEvoy for playing time. The previous regime hoped that McEvoy could emerge as a dual threat that could make a Wisconsin program known for its running game a little more unpredictable.
It didn’t really work out.
McEvoy started the first five games last year after winning a training camp competition. Stave reclaimed the starting job by midseason, with McEvoy serving as a change-of-pace threat thereafter.
Now, the athletic McEvoy seems ticketed for a two-way role at safety and receiver, both positions that he has also played at Wisconsin.
That leaves Stave with the job to himself in the new regime. A starter for parts of each of the last three seasons, Stave’s career completion rate (58 percent) and touchdown passes (37) each rank fifth in the Wisconsin record book.
He has also had maddeningly inconsistent stretches. Sometimes, Stave has had trouble figuring out when to use his feet to get out of trouble in the pocket. Other times, it’s missing an open receiver on a deep ball.
Imagine what the offense could have been like last season if there was a consistent passing game all year to complement tailback Melvin Gordon, the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy.
“After going through what I went through last year, I feel like it can’t get any worse,” Stave said Sunday. “At this point, it’s kind of just exciting to just cut it loose and have fun. I only got one more year left of this.”
But for all the consternation about the quarterback position, the running game should once again be the featured component of the offense. This year, it’s Corey Clement’s turn to be the lead running back, following in the footsteps of Gordon and other recent standouts like James White and Montee Ball.
There are early questions about the health and depth of the offensive line. Receivers must emerge beyond senior Alex Erickson, a former walk-on.
Having a consistent, confident Stave leading the way could help ease uncertainties in other areas.
“He’s the kind of guy you can lean on every day,” center Dan Voltz said. “You know he’s going to give everything he has and we’re going to play for him.”
Notes: Voltz said he is 100 percent for camp following an ankle injury in the spring. ... Chryst said T.J. Watt will get a look at outside linebacker in camp. The former tight end missed last season because injury. He is the younger brother of former Badgers defensive lineman and Houston Texans star J.J. Watt.
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