Paul Chryst doesn’t want his quarterbacks thinking about the depth chart in April.
Still five months out from the University of Wisconsin’s season opener against LSU, the Badgers’ football coach would rather Bart Houston and Alex Hornibrook focus on themselves throughout UW’s five weeks of spring football.
While the two players say they’ve carried out that plan through the first seven practices, ignoring the competition entirely isn’t always so simple.
Each, of course, wants to be UW’s starting quarterback this season. And each envisions himself as the one to take the first snap of the season Sept. 3 at Lambeau Field.
“I’ve been imagining that since I was a senior in high school,” said Houston, a fifth-year senior. “You want it to be as early as possible, but the past is the past. You’re always dreaming. That’s the goal. We have very high goals of winning championships. My goal has to start a little bit lower. Win the job, then we can win a game, then we can win a championship.”
Regardless of the approach, the goal for each is to beat out the other.
Instead of looking over their shoulders to judge themselves against one another, though, Chryst has them trying to “steal reps” from each other. Not physically, but mentally.
While one takes a snap in practice, the other is standing in the background, reading the defense as if he has the ball in his hands.
“I don’t really watch Alex’s performance,” Houston said. “I watch what his reads are. I’m trying to steal the reps.
“(Former UW offensive coordinator Andy) Ludwig said this perfectly back in the day. He’d say, ‘Don’t count your reps. Make them count.’ That’s what coach Chryst is telling us. Don’t think about the depth chart. Just think about stealing the reps and the reps that you’re in.”
The two still have a long way to go before winning the starting job. Both have made plenty of mistakes through the first seven practices — sometimes to the degree of throwing interceptions right into the hands of the defense.
Tuesday’s session looked much better as Houston completed 11 of 18 passes during team and 7-on-7 drills and Hornibrook went 12-for-21.
Houston threw the day’s only interception, a pass that deflected off wide receiver Jazz Peavy’s hands.
Hornibrook, a redshirt freshman, has appeared to be the one to make the most mistakes thus far. But Tuesday he led a 60-yard touchdown drive during full contact, 11-on-11 drills in which he completed a 31-yard pass to Reggie Love and a 12-yard scoring pass to Peavy.
“There were still a few mistakes, things to work on, a couple reads that I didn’t quite get,” Hornibrook said.
“I started off (spring practice) with a bunch of things to improve on. Once you improve on one thing, you think that there won’t be others, but other things keep piling on every single day. Each day, no matter how well you do, there’s always something you could have done better. There’s always something you need to learn. So it’s just kind of a continuing process.”
Now the challenge comes in the form of putting together a string of good practices and finding consistency at the most important position on the field.
If the two simply focus on themselves, Chryst said, that will come naturally.
“I think with both Alex and Bart, there’s so far that they’ve got to go that, just focus on improvement,” Chryst said. “They’re getting a ton of reps, and that’s really good. What do you do with those reps? You learn from the mistakes. You learn from what you did well. A lot of quarterbacks, it could be the same play, the same coverage, but the defense plays it different. Are you confident in who you are enough to kind of work through it?
“They’ve got to grow. In the end, you’re looking for consistency.”