Following the 12th practice of spring, the four quarterbacks on Wisconsin’s roster met with the media for the first time. They chatted about their relationship as a group, the leadership of junior Jack Coan, the buzz around freshman Graham Mertz and how all of them are just really good eggs.
Here’s everything they had to say:
Q: How much of a different feel do you have coming into this camp knowing you’re the veteran now? Do you feel different about how your role?
Coan: “I definitely feel more comfortable coming into this year. I feel like you get more comfortable as you get more playing experience. That’s the biggest thing.”
Q: Do the younger guys look to you a lot for help?
Coan: “I feel like we all have a good relationship in our room. We all bounce ideas off each other and ask questions to each other. It’s always open communication. It’s good to have a bunch of good guys in the quarterback room.”
Q: Do you get the feeling everyone is willing to help anyone else despite the fact they are competing?
Coan: “Absolutely. Like I said, it’s just a bunch of good guys in a quarterback room. I think that’s a testament to the guys that Coach Budmayr and Coach Chryst recruit. Just a bunch of good eggs.”
Q: From an on-field standpoint, what have you tried to work on or where are some areas where you think you made strides?
Coan: “I think the biggest thing is situational football. Knowing the down and distance, the time on the clock, where you’re at on the field. Just constantly playing the game and it helps just getting those reps in practice.”
Q: Are there any specific things you want to work on this offseason?
Coan: “Obviously, just get in the film room and study the offense, study the other teams. As far as physically, just get bigger, stronger, faster and just improve on my throwing.”
Q: You say you’re more comfortable now. Can you give some examples where you are more comfortable?
Coan: “I feel like working with other guys is a big thing. As you get older here, you build more chemistry with the guys and guys start looking at you more, so you become more of a leader, too. I’d say the chemistry with the guys has been big. Just the with the offense, too. You get more and more reps and you become more comfortable.”
Q: With Alex Hornibrook gone, does it change how you prepare, knowing you’re the guy with the most experience and seemingly in the lead for the starting job?
Coan: “Not really. Like you said, last year I would always prepare as if I’m the starter, so nothing is going to change.”
Q: Looking at Graham Mertz, what does he do well?
Coan: “He’s definitely a great player. He throws a great ball. He’s going to be a really good player. The best thing is he’s a really good kid, too.”
Q: QB coach Jon Budmayr said he be disappointed if you didn’t view yourself as the starter. Are you approaching it as that?
Coan: “Yeah, I’m trying to approach it that way, but that’s the way I’ve always approached it.
Q: Did you pay attention to any of the hype surrounding Mertz?
Coan: “Not really, to be honest. I try not to go on social media too much, so no, not really.”
Q: What stands out about Chase Wolf and Danny Vanden Boom?
Coan: “They’re just some great players and some great kids. They make a bunch of plays out here. They’re going to be really good, too.”
Q: What’s been the biggest adjustment on the field since you started spring practice?
Mertz: “Definitely the mental game, because you’ve got to have an answer to every coverage on every play. That’s definitely the biggest thing, but it’s been a great spring ball and great progress.”
Q: It seems like Coan has been helping with some of the calls from the sideline. Is that some of the challenge, too?
Mertz: “Yeah, just the signals and everything. We’re getting better at it as a group. Signals have been a big thing for all of us. We’re always emphasizing getting those down and getting ready to go.”
Q: How much of the playbook do you actually know?
Mertz: “As a group, we’re trying to get it all in right now. We’ve been spending extra time doing a bunch of stuff. And just us. We’ll just get in (the quarterback room) together and just get after it, so pretty much the whole thing. Pretty much everything is in. We’re doing a great job as a unit getting it all down.”
Q: Still learning the signals at bit?
Mertz: “I’m getting better at them. I’m starting to signal a little bit more. It’s been an adjustment but it’s been fun.”
Q: Are you worried about the quarterback competition and potential reps in fall camp?
Mertz: “We all know competition gets the best out of all of us. We couldn’t ask for a better group of guys. We love each other and we want to grow as a group. We think competition will bring us to the best level that we can be.”
Q: How would you grade your performance so far?
Mertz: “I’ve got room for improvement. I’ve got a lot of stuff I’ve got to learn and a lot of stuff to grow. I’m just trying to be a sponge right now and grow as much as possible.”
Q: Everything you dealt with before you came here, has it changed since you’ve come to campus? Are you still able to silence the outside noise?
Mertz: “It’s a clean slate. It’s college ball now, so none of (my high school accomplishments) matter. It’s just about winning now.”
Q: When you walk around campus do people already know who you are?
Mertz: “Yeah, but I just try to be a normal guy. You see someone walking around and says hi to you, I try not to be the guy that will be like, ‘No, I’m not going to talk to you.’ I just try to be nice to everyone. My mom raised me to be a good egg, so I just try to be that around campus.”
Q: As the veteran of the group, how much has Coan helped you overall?
Mertz: “Jack has been great. I’ve learned so much from the past four weeks of spring ball. Everything we’ve done, breaking down film and stuff like that. If I see a read, and don’t think it’s right, I’ll ask him what he saw right after. After he has a play, I’ll ask him what he saw. Just going back and forth, trying to be the best we can be.
“I think our group and our unit, what we do best, is learn from each other. We’ll be in the film room and we’ll ask each other in the middle of a meeting, ‘What were you thinking on that play?’ Just learning from each other. That’s our biggest thing right now. Trying to bring the entire level of our group to the next level.”
Q: Was there any point since you’ve gotten on campus where you felt overwhelmed?
Mertz: “I think everyone has that feeling right when you step on campus. (My) first week we had winter workouts. Winter workouts the first week kind of hit you a little bit being away from home. But I fell in love with this place. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Q: What do Chase Wolf and Danny Vanden Boom bring to the table?
Mertz: “They do a ton of great things. Chase likes to get around, make some movements to get on the run and then throw it. Danny is also very clean in his mental game. He knows where he’s going every play with every coverage. Him, Jack and Chase, they know what they are doing. As a unit, we know where we’re going with the ball. That’s been our biggest thing. Where’s your intent? Where were you going with it? And to value the football. That’s been our biggest emphasis this spring.”
Danny Vanden Boom
Q: How are you feeling after taking that big hit when you kept the ball on the zone read?
Vanden Boom: “Good. I haven’t been hit in a long, long time. When Coach Chryst said we were live, I knew there was an opportunity. I saw the lonesome signal, and to be honest, I was little bit surprised. I had them give it to me again just to make sure I saw it right. It was really exciting. Honestly, the edge didn’t collapse as hard as they had in the past, so they played it pretty well. I got a pretty good pop, but it felt good. I have no problems with it.”
Q: How did playing in those few games last year help you in preparing for this year?
Vanden Boom: “Every bit of experience, whether it’s a rep in practice or in a game, is very valuable, particularly in the game setting. We play games in high school and it’s just a totally different atmosphere here when you’re with whatever 80,000 plus here at Camp Randall. I know they start to dwindle out a little bit towards the end of the blowouts, but it was really fun and a good experience. It’s good to get a couple of snaps under my belt. Any reps are good reps.”
Q: Where do you think you’ve grown the most since that time and throughout this spring?
Vanden Boom: “I would say just continuing to learn the game. I feel like my feet over time have just naturally improved, gotten a little quicker. Early on I was real long but my timing has improved. I would attribute that to just having better knowledge and a better grasp on the overall playbook and feeling more comfortable out there. Just going out there and maximizing the reps when you get the opportunity.”
Q: Do you feel like if you do your job you’ll be in the mix for reps when fall camp starts?
Vanden Boom: “Honestly, I haven’t thought too far ahead into the horizon. Again, just trying to maximize the reps that I do get, and focusing on what I can control. Like I said, earning reps and maximizing those reps and seeing where that puts me come fall camp and come next season.”
Q: With all four guys competing for the starting spot, does that bring you guys closer as a group?
Vanden Boom: “Yeah, absolutely. It’s a really tight group. A bunch of good eggs in the room. It’s just a really good group of guys. I know a lot of people probably say this around the country, but it’s just a really, really tight group. There’s nobody else I’d like to be working alongside. We learn a lot from each other. Like you said, a lot of guys getting a bunch of reps. It’s valuable to get reps yourself, but it’s also important to make sure you’re learning from other guys reps. It’s just a really good, down to earth, humble group of guys. I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to work alongside them.”
Q: How much have you leaned on Jack Coan and how much has he brought to the QB room since he’s the veteran?
Vanden Boom: “Obviously, Jack’s got the most experience. He really dives into the film, does a great job of understanding the game. He’s just a great resource for all of us, really. Like I said, it’s a bunch of good dudes in the room. Whoever you are, it’s really is a good group of dudes. We all care about each other. Ultimately, the most important thing is to put a quarterback out there on Saturday afternoons that will give us a chance to win.
“The addition of Graham, that’s obviously important from a competition level. He makes everybody better and adds to the value of the room. We’ve got to put out, on Saturday afternoons, a guy that is going to be able to get the job done. Jack does a great job of ensuring that, whether it’s him or whoever, he helps to make sure that we’re doing our job in the backfield there.”
Q: Did you notice all the hype around Graham when he came in here? Was it hard not to?
Vanden Boom: “Yes and no. Everybody talked about Graham coming in, but I don’t really have any social media. I have my accounts, but I deleted all the apps, so I’m not really involved there. But with a guy like Graham you hear about it from friends and whoever. There’s a buzz and I understand why there’s a buzz. He’s very physically gifted. He’s really off to a good start learning the playbook. He’s rolling.”
Q: How far have you come since last fall when you first took the field in a Wisconsin uniform?
Wolf: “I think, personally, I’ve grown tremendous amounts. Speaking of reading coverages and making decisions. I remember in high school, I just knew what was going on. Coming into this complex offense, you really have to study up and know what you’re doing at all times. To this point, this is the best I’ve understood what I’m doing at all times, where everybody is supposed to be. This year, the quarterbacks are learning protections and where to point the (middle linebacker) so we know where we’re going to be hot. Knowing all those little things has helped me to understand the pieces of the offense and just help us get better.”
Q: Do you think what you went through in high school, battling another Big Ten QB for a starting job, helps you with the competition here?
Wolf: “Absolutely. In high school, Sean (Clifford) was a tremendous leader. He really helped me step up my game. I was a basketball player before I met him. I learned from his mistakes, but I also learned from his success. I kind of model my game off of him because I didn’t really know what kind of quarterback I wanted to be. It’s great to see how he’s having success right now and he has a chance to start at Penn State.”
Q: But did having to battle him make you ready for this competition?
Wolf: “My high school experience has taught me to never shy away from competition. Sean, that’s one of the best competitions out there, especially in high school. You don’t see two Big Ten quarterbacks competing for a job in high school. I think that made me really mature. He’s a great player and he helped me get better. I think I can learn from (UW’s quarterbacks). Jack’s a good egg. They’re all good eggs out there. I can learn from them and Coach Budmayr, too.
Q: What can you learn from Coan?
Wolf: “He’s a great leader. I think the whole quarterback group is like brothers. It’s a great bond in there. I remember after the Northwestern game, we lost but Danny and I went up to Jack and hugged him, said we loved him. I think that’s a great component to have in the quarterback room. Him having trust in me, and me having trust in him, it kind of creates a great relationship. It helps me to learn from him. Jack’s a really smart player. He knows what he’s doing, so if I can model that I’ll be great.”
Q: Will having these types of relationships make it more difficult come fall camp when the reps won’t be so evenly divided?
Wolf: “I just have to make the most of my reps right now and then worry about that then. Get as good as I can in the summer month and then I’ll worry about reps then. Just see how it plays out. If I just make the most of every rep I have, even if it’s fall camp and I’m getting limited reps, then I think I can become better and give us a shot to become the best team we can be.”
Q: What do you think is your strength on the field?
Wolf: “I believe I have a strong arm but sometimes my decision making isn’t up to standards. But I think I can make plays inside and outside the pocket. That’s what I was able to do in high school, which got me here. I think I just have a gamer mentality where if I step up into a game I’ll figure out a way to help the team win. I think I can lead the guys and get the best out of them.”
Q: It appears you can also change your release point on your throws. Is that something you’ve always had?
Wolf: “That’s something I kind of just grew up doing. My quarterback coach, Tony Pike, has me working on several different releases. Today I had a scramble where I threw it sidearm, and I think it kind of expands my game a little bit. But sometimes having too much trust in that can get me in trouble. I think it’s a good thing to have.”
Q: What are your impressions of Mertz?
Wolf: “Graham, he’s a great kid. He’s stepped up into the offense better than I could expect. He shows confidence when he’s out there. He’s just really talented. I think the thing about him is he’s very confident in his ability. That’s led him to have some good drives out here and have a great spring practice.”
Q: Did you pay attention to Mertz’s high school accomplishments?
Wolf: “I was excited to meet him. It’s kind of hard not to recognize it. I mean throwing five touchdowns at the All-American game is great. That’s greatness. I want to surround myself with great talent and the best competition I can face myself with.”