There were two notable absences Wednesday at Wisconsin media day: two-time All-American running back Jonathan Taylor and quarterback Alex Hornibrook.
Taylor’s flight out of Philadelphia was delayed, causing him to miss the team photo, and Hornibrook, who started the past three seasons for the Badgers, transferred to Florida State in March.
Competing to take Hornibrook’s place as the starter will be Jack Coan, Danny Vanden Boom, Chase Wolf and freshman Graham Mertz. The Badgers, who went 8-5 last year, open the season Aug. 30 at South Florida.
Coach Paul Chryst said Coan has a slight edge heading into fall camp as the only quarterback of the four with any meaningful experience at the college level. The junior played in five games last season and went 2-2 in four starts, winning consecutive games to close out the year.
“I thought certainly his last two were his best games,” Chryst said. “I’ve appreciated how he’s gone about it. Experience is great to learn from. I think he’s done all the things he can at taking the steps to try to maximize the opportunity to learn. But Jack’s not a veteran quarterback right now.”
Coan said he’s gained 10-to-15 pounds since last season and is looking forward to competing for the starting job.
“They’re a bunch of great guys,” Coan said of the other three quarterbacks. “Competition just brings out the best in you. so it’s all going to be good.”
Vanden Boom played sparingly in three games last season, and Chryst said Wolf had a good spring. But the most intriguing of the group is Mertz.
Mertz, who grew up in Kansas, was considered one of the top prospects in the 2019 recruiting class, receiving scholarship offers from traditional powers Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Michigan and Ohio State. He chose Wisconsin and even enrolled early in Madison so he could participate in spring practice.
Mertz said he’s excited about trying to secure the starting spot over the next few weeks.
“That’s the nature of competition — it really brings out the best in everyone,” Mertz said. “That’s what I’m excited for. If you sat down and watched our spring ball, the first practice, then you watched the last one, we all grew a ton in every aspect. So I’m excited to see how we come out of this fall camp. It’ll be good times.”
Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said he has faith in all four players and said each has the potential to become a starter.
“I don’t remember having four guys where you felt like, ‘Man, OK, I don’t care who’s in that huddle, they can command it, they can communicate, guys trust them, and let’s go,’” Rudolph said. “That’s saying something. I think it started probably with Jack and his approach. He got competition right off the jump. Not only from Chase and Danny but here comes Graham. ... I like what’s going on.”
Hornibrook went 26-6 in parts of three seasons as Wisconsin’s starting quarterback, and his .813 winning percentage is the best of any passer in program history, but he struggled at times last season as the Badgers finished with their lowest win total since 2012.
“I think for us to be the best team we can be, we need to obviously have more improved and consistent play at the quarterback spot,” Chryst said.