MADISON — Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst met with the media late Monday morning in advance of the Badgers starting spring practice on Tuesday.
Here’s what stood out during 20-minute session:
Alex Hornibrook’s departure
For the first time since quarterback Alex Hornibrook announced in early March he’d be transferring, Chryst was asked about seeing his much-maligned three-year starter leave the program.
“(We) had a number of conversations with him and his folks,” Chryst said of the process. “A lot of that I’ll just keep between us. Every guy goes through things. We certainly appreciate what he did here. He’s going to graduate with a heck of a degree and was a contributor to some really good teams and good moments. You wish him well as he goes forward.”
Hornibrook will graduate in the spring and then head to Florida State to play his final season.
Hornibrook suffered a head injury last season that caused him to miss four full games and part of another. That, combined with some inconsistent play, led to plenty of speculation about the potential for a quarterback competition in the spring. With him gone, there is no question that the job is open for the taking.
“We’ve got four quarterbacks,” Chryst said. “That’s what’s good about this time of year. They all get a chance to work and improve. Like I said earlier, (I’m) not worried about who’s starting right now. I’m worried about how can we help each guy get better.”
There is definitely a need for the quarterbacks to take a step up after a season in which they underperformed. Chryst essentially called the position out following the Pinstripe Bowl.
“There’s not one thing we did at that position that you say, ‘All right, this is how we want it to be,’” Chryst said. “There’s moments, but clearly we’ve got to get better at that position.”
Wisconsin’s four options are junior Jack Coan, redshirt sophomore Danny Vanden Boom, redshirt freshman Chase Wolf and true freshman Graham Mertz. Of those guys, only Coan and Vanden Boom have thrown a pass in college. That leaves some uncertainty at the most important position on the field, but Chryst doesn’t seem bothered by it. He won’t even be worried if he doesn’t know who his guy will be after the 15 practices.
“If you’re trying to see who’s going to be the starter out of spring, then you better give them more snaps early,” Chryst said. “You’ve got to narrow it all down quickly. We don’t have to do that right now.”
Graham Mertz putting himself in position
The quarterback competition will be fascinating to watch and a large majority of the eyes will be on Mertz. As the highest-rated quarterback recruit in school history, much is expected of him, though the spotlight won’t be new for the Kansas product.
“Their team had success in high school and he did get a lot of attention,” Chryst said. “I appreciated the way he handled all that.”
The hype and hope surrounding Mertz is nearly unprecedented in Wisconsin football history. With offers from nearly every major program in the country, fans are expecting Mertz to come in right away and start. Chryst isn’t there yet, but has been impressed with his maturity and focus to this point.
“He’s got a good talent base,” Chryst said. “The team is important to him. Those are all things you thought you saw in him, but the more you’re around, it just reinforced it. Obviously, we’re excited that he’s here.”
Whether that means he can come in and be the first true freshman quarterback at Wisconsin to start a game since 1991 remains to be seen. The fact he’s an early enrollee, though, should be to his benefit.
“I think it does help the learning (process) quite a bit (and it gives him) an opportunity to compete in the fall,” Chryst said.
No spring game
Chryst is apparently worried about false advertising when it comes to the spring game.
“I don’t really know when it stopped, but it stopped (being) a game,” Chryst said. “You want to have something where it’s open, so that’s why we’re going to hopefully have it open (on April 13). Then people don’t have to pay money for it. They just come and hopefully see it, but you’re also not misrepresenting by calling it a spring game.”
The Badgers lost four of their five starters along the offensive line after last season. Now, they’ll be without two of their projected starters in the spring.
Chryst said that left tackle Cole Van Lanen and center Tyler Biadasz will both be held out from practice, as will outside linebacker Christian Bell. He was injured during bowl prep in December.
Several guys will also be limited in the spring, including defensive end Garrett Rand and running back Bradrick Shaw.
Rand missed all of last year following an achilles injury in June.
“He’s one that you’re kind of curious [about],” Chryst said. “He’s a guy that’s played good football and then missed a whole year. He’s a good player, and I think he can add a lot to us.”
Shaw also missed all of last year after getting hurt in the 2017 season finale at Minnesota.
Spring nearly always brings position changes with it and this year was no different. Chryst referenced several players, including Isaac Guerendo moving from wide receiver to running backs, Seth Currens going from safety to inside linebacker and Griffin Grady from inside linebacker to outside.