From quarterback to quarterback

First, the Wisconsin quarterback who was not in the news this past week, from Fox Sports Wisconsin:

Q: I’m sorry, and I’ve written about this before, but Joel Stave just isn’t a big-time program quarterback. He is so uncomfortable back there and there are just too many things going on for him to handle. Yes, he does make some big plays at just the right moments, but he is by no means a “natural.” Anderson must see something, but what the hell is it?

— Bill Gailbreath, Madison

A: Well, here are just some of the things Andersen — and many others — are probably seeing from Stave:

• He has completed 62.9 percent of his passes this season, which ranks as the sixth-best single-season mark in Wisconsin history.

• His 61.4 percent career completion rate ranks tied for third with Darrell Bevell, behind only Russell Wilson and Scott Tolzien.

• He is third in program history in passing efficiency behind only Wilson and Tolzien.

• He already ranks in the top 10 in career touchdown passes with 21.

• He ranks fifth in the Big Ten this season in passing yards per game (203.8) and fifth in passing efficiency.

Look, I get it that people want to criticize Stave because he has made some errant throws this season and won’t match Wilson’s magical 33-touchdown, four-interception Rose Bowl season two years ago (who would?). But here’s a thought: Why not just appreciate Stave for the player he is and the player he is capable of becoming? The guy is a redshirt sophomore with two more full seasons to be Wisconsin’s quarterback. He keeps improving, coaches are happy with his play, and Wisconsin is 6-2 with a realistic opportunity to make a BCS bowl game.

For decades, Wisconsin football fans would have sold their souls for a quarterback capable of doing all these things. Keep that in mind as you watch Stave continue to get better.

Wilson arguably is the best quarterback in the history of Badger football. Yes, based on one season. When you throw eight times as many touchdown passes as interceptions, well, no one is going to match that over two to four seasons. It says volumes about the moribund state of the Badger passing game, even in the Barry Alvarez era, that after the equivalent of one season as a starter, Stave is already in the top 10 in career marks in passing efficiency, completion percentage and touchdown passes.

Bevell, Wilson, Tolzien, Stave and every other quarterback since Alvarez arrived in Madison have had the additional handicap of having only one wide receiver of any quality to throw to — in order, Lee DeRamus, Tony Simmons, Donald Hayes, Chris Chambers, Nick Davis, Lee Evans and Brandon Williams under Alvarez, and Nick Toon under Bielema. Bielema got Jared Abbrederis because Abbrederis originally was a UW track walk-on.

Stave is the Wisconsin-based quarterback most likely to win this weekend. Then there are the Packers, who now lack their franchise, Aaron Rodgers, thanks to his collarbone injury of uncertain duration.

First observation about Monday night: The loss to Da Bears wasn’t all Wallace’s fault. The defense was unable to get stops of an offense that really isn’t very good. Wallace can be blamed for his ineptitude on the Packers’ last drive, even though he wasn’t very well prepared. (I’d say that’s on coach Mike McCarthy, but it seems that no backup quarterback gets many snaps during the week because of the complicated nature of NFL offenses.)

Wallace’s having to play demonstrates an observation, ironically, from earlier this week — that there are more NFL quarterbacks than NFL-quality quarterbacks. The fact that McCown played better than Wallace also demonstrates that results of backup quarterbacks are usually better when they have the entire week to prepare than when they are thrown into the game.

The game also demonstrated, for all those who have ragged on the Packers for lacking a running game for years, that you win in the NFL based on your quarterback, not on the running game. The Packers have the best running game they’ve had since the Ahman Green-in-his-prime days of a decade ago … and they still lost, and they will continue to lose if Wallace can’t play better and/or Rodgers returns quickly.

The winner of the Irony or Jinx Award is Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sportswriter Bob McGinn, who wrote one week ago:

It’s a simple yet pervasive line of thinking in the event that quarterback Aaron Rodgers should suffer an injury sidelining him for most if not all of the season.

The theory goes that it makes no difference what players might be behind Rodgers. If No. 12 goes down, all hope is lost — the Green Bay Packers would be finished.

Every coach, player and executive working at 1265 Lombardi Ave. should take that as a personal affront.

We’ve seen Mike McCarthy, Ted Thompson, their staffs and the players overcome more injuries in the last four seasons than any National Football League team. Time and time again they’ve lost key players only to plug in well-prepared backups and keep on winning.

They’ve never had to make do without possibly the finest player in the league. Losing Rodgers to major injury would be the nightmare of all nightmares. He makes everyone’s job easier.

Yet, no organization would be better equipped to handle it than Green Bay. …

Having spent much of the week researching the long career of No. 2 quarterback Seneca Wallace and the brief career of practice-squad quarterback Scott Tolzien, the guess here is that even if the Packers were to lose Rodgers early Monday night against the Chicago Bears they’d find ways to finish 11-5.

That probably would earn them one of the top three seedings in the NFC playoff field. Then Green Bay would be a tough out.

It’s hard not to be bullish on the Packers at the midpoint of the season. Playing by far the meat of their schedule, they’ve gone 5-2 despite another unending succession of injuries. With Rodgers, they figure to go 14-2, 13-3 or 12-4. …

Should what some regard as a death knell strike at quarterback, the Packers would grieve, they’d cope and my feeling is they’d come together as an even more unified force.

Certainly, there is potential for a team to suffer some loss of hope without its leader and greatest player. As talented and committed as Rodgers is, and as rule changes increase the value of the quarterback position, the Packers are all but guaranteed no fewer than nine or 10 victories if he lines up 16 times.

I’d see it going the other way. This team is thinking Super Bowl all the way now, and to that end one could foresee a collective groundswell of emotion and effort with the express intention of proving the doomsayers wrong.

Injuries haven’t touched either line. Largely because of that, this team can run the ball and stop the run, maybe the best friends a backup quarterback can have. …

Which brings us to Seneca Wallace, 33, whose career was on life support before the Packers beckoned him Sept. 2 to supplant Vince Young and B.J. Coleman as Rodgers’ backup.

It would be far from ideal. There was no quarterback school or training camp for Wallace in Green Bay, and all he gets in practice now is about 55% of the scout-team reps and a stray snap here and there with the No. 1s.

“He’s a great person,” said left tackle David Bakhtiari. “But he’s never really been in the huddle for a game so I don’t know how he’d react in a game situation.”

Wallace, however, does have 1,573 regular-season snaps under his belt. Most of them came in Seattle, where coach Mike Holmgren and Thompson drafted him in the fourth round in 2003 because they wanted Matt Hasselbeck’s backup to have an entirely different set of skills.

After backing up Hasselbeck and Trent Dilfer for two years, Wallace moved up to No. 2 in 2005 and then started 14 games for an injured Hasselbeck from 2006-’09.

He was traded to Cleveland in March 2010 for a seventh-round draft choice and given a $2 million signing bonus a year later. In two seasons for bad Browns teams, he started seven games.

Wallace’s 6-15 record as a starter includes an 11-10 record against the spread. Thirteen of the teams that he started against finished with winning records, and 10 made the playoffs. His team was favored five times in those 21 games.

His career passer ratings are 81.3 in the regular season and 78.3 in exhibition games. His rushing totals are 293 and 256 yards, respectively. A speedy, gifted athlete with excellent toughness, he played about 30 snaps at wide receiver and made six receptions.

Wallace stands 5 feet 11½ inches and weighs 206.

“If you have (height) requirements you just move on from him,” Scot McCloughan, Seattle’s director of college scouting in 2003, said at the time. “But he’s a quarterback that’s a winner. Whatever it takes.”

The Seahawks saw Wallace pick up Holmgren’s complicated West Coast system after diligent application, throw better deep balls than Hasselbeck and consistently slip and slide to avoid rushers and run for first downs. He has a compact delivery, good snap on the ball and accuracy moving to his right.

Besides height, the reason scouts say Wallace was never handed a starting job was indecision and lack of patience in the pocket together with average overall accuracy.

“He was in a very similar offense to Green Bay’s for a long time,” one personnel man said. “I think that’s what Green Bay was counting on when they signed him.”

Last week, two scouts for AFC teams were asked to judge Wallace against the 31 other No. 2 quarterbacks.

The first preferred Wallace to 19 backups, took five over him and rated seven as a tossup. The second favored Wallace over 15 and the other 16 over him.

We’ll see. I picked the Packers for 10–6 because “The schedule to me includes three no-way-in-hell-will-they-win-there road games — at San Francisco, at Baltimore and at the Giants — and they will probably lose one divisional game they shouldn’t lose and one home game they shouldn’t lose.” The win at Baltimore was thus on the positive side, but Monday’s loss was a loss they should not have lost. so they cancel out each other. They should win Sunday, but that is now in serious doubt. Including Sunday, their next four games — Philadelphia, at the Giants, Minnesota and at Detroit Thanksgiving Day — now could result in just one win, Minnesota, which is terrible and unlikely to win outdoors.

Seneca Wallace may indeed be a capable backup quarterback. But until and if Rodgers returns, the Packers don’t need him to be backup; they need him to be an NFL-quality starting quarterback, and he’s really not been that before now.

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