MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Joel Stave will get a late start in spring ball to hold off the competition for the starting quarterback job at Wisconsin.
The incumbent will be limited through the early part of camp after hurting his right shoulder in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day. It's just a precaution, coach Gary Andersen said Wednesday.
"We just don't want him throwing a few balls down the field and get too competitive," Andersen said after a first practice that lasted about two hours. "If we were going to play tomorrow, he would play."
There are six months to go, though, to determine whether he would start.
Stave had an up-and-down campaign in 2013, his first full year as the starter. Defenses started concentrating on the Badgers' staunch running game down the stretch, and the passing game didn't produce enough to make opponents pay.
Andersen has said the job is Stave's to lose. But the heat is definitely on him this spring with Tanner McEvoy moving back to quarterback from safety to join a group that also includes Bart Houston and freshman D.J. Gillins.
Stave will be limited in team situations through spring break, and Andersen said the team will then determine whether he can go at 100 percent when the team returns from break March 25.
Until then, the quarterback reps will be divided much like they were on Wednesday. It appeared Houston took the first snap in team drills. McEvoy also looked good in taking a healthy number of snaps. Gillins shows promise with his athletic ability but made mistakes that would be expected of a freshman in his first spring practice.
Of more concern to Andersen is depth along the offensive line. Both of last year's centers, Dallas Lewallen and Dan Voltz, will concentrate on rehabbing from injuries this spring but are expected to be 100 percent by summer conditioning.
Highly-rated freshman lineman Jaden Gault had what Andersen termed as a minor knee surgery but is also expected to be fine in the fall.
"Depth of the offensive line, sustaining and maintaining a crew we can actually run a practice," Andersen said. "A couple kids go down there and it's going to be hard to run a practice. We've got to be careful there."
Andersen also plans to be extra careful with two of the team's best players — running backs Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement.
"I don't feel like either one of those backs needs to be tackled in spring ball to prove themselves," Andersen said. "They'll get thudded up pretty heavy, all that comes with it, but not a true tackle."
There are high expectations in 2014 especially for Gordon, who ran for 1,600 yards and 12 touchdowns last year and confounded defenses on the fly sweep. With 2013 backfield partner James White out of eligibility, Gordon could carry a heavier workload this fall.
All in all though, a good first day for Andersen's second spring practice in Madison — though it didn't necessarily feel like spring with temperatures outside in the upper teens and melting snow sliding off the roof of the McClain indoor practice facility.
"We're going to call this March ball instead of spring ball," he joked. "March ball, first day went very well."