Badgers QBs taking holistic approach under Paul Chryst

Badgers sophomore quarterback Graham Mertz takes a snap from senior center Kayden Lyles. 

COLTEN BARTHOLOMEW [email protected]

Changes were sure to come to the University of Wisconsin quarterback room when coach Paul Chryst took control of leading that position.

An offseason shuffle of assistants put Chryst in a familiar position of coaching the quarterbacks and calling plays, tasks he handled for the Badgers from 2006-11 and at the start of his head coaching tenure with the program. His current crop of quarterbacks told reporters Friday that Chryst has much of the same verbiage as former quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr, but their approaches are different.

Chryst has pulled back the layers of the offense and has quarterbacks examining each element of plays, both in the run and pass game, as spring practices unfold.

“The emphasis on the little things and like being able to get up on the board and draw a play up and explain it and truly have complete, full confidence in that play and knowing every single part of it, even in the run game,” sophomore quarterback Graham Mertz said in response to a question on the differences with Chryst leading the room.

“Really, it’s the attention to detail in that aspect that coach Chryst really has been emphasizing (in) the eight weeks of winter conditioning and then up to this point. So it’s been great.”

The quarterbacks who spoke Friday expressed well-wishes for Budmayr, who became Colorado State’s offensive coordinator in January.

But they said Chryst’s conversational style in the meeting room has helped them take a different level of ownership over the offense.

“I think I’ve developed a bigger grasp of the game with this (change),” junior Chase Wolf said. “It’s more of a dialogue between us, the quarterbacks and coach. So we pick his brain, he picks our brain, what we think fits.

“We’re not doing a lot of technical stuff like, ‘This is where this person’s supposed to be,’ we’re drawing formations, the plays, the check downs. I think that has helped me to understand not only what is supposed to happen, but why, and I think that has absolutely helped me in practice so far. There’s only been two practices, but I’ve already noticed a difference.”

Mertz started each of the Badgers’ seven games last season, leading the team to a 4-3 record. Wolf appeared in three games, including finishing the win over Minnesota in the regular-season finale and multiple drives in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl win against Wake Forest. Both of them spoke Friday about the game slowing down for them toward the end of the year, and the detailed work they’re doing with Chryst this winter and spring is aiding that effort even further.

Fifth-year senior Danny Vanden Boom, the oldest player in the quarterback room, said the group having experience — both in terms of playing and time in the program — allows Chryst to push them beyond the basics.

“For the most part, we understand base progressions,” Vanden Boom said.

“There are always new plays that are being added, there’s always more stuff to study. But this is just kind of like the next level. This is the next step in understanding an offense, not just understanding the pass game, things like that. But spending more time on protections and knowing when we’re hot. Knowing how to get us out of a run play into a different play, or maybe even like pointing a ‘Mike’ (middle linebacker) if we get a rotation from the defense, re-pointing a ‘Mike’ so that we can get our runs better blocked, or so we’re protected up.”

Vanden Boom’s description makes it sound as if Chryst is preparing the group for more pre-snap adjustments to be made at the line of scrimmage. With Mertz making the first starts of his collegiate career last season, checks at the line weren’t used often. Associate head coach Joe Rudolph said in December there were some opportunities for Mertz to make those adjustments, but they didn’t come up often.

However that looks come the fall, Mertz said he already sees signs of the offense making significant steps forward after a down year in 2020.

“We’ve only had two to two practices of spring ball, but it’s going to be a completely different team,” he said.

“Guys are playing with confidence, trusting the installs we got in and flying around, making plays. So this spring ball will mean a lot. Where we were last year, where we’re going to be this year, completely different. I’ve got complete confidence in that.”

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