Badgers' Phillips conditioned to compete

When Curt Phillips received a sixth season of eligibility at Wisconsin, some viewed him as a nice insurance policy at quarterback.

Make no mistake, Badgers fans appreciated Phillips' contributions last season, when he started the team's final five games, including the Big Ten championship game and the Rose Bowl. Phillips' quest to continue his football career despite three ACL surgeries is admired by all who have followed his Wisconsin career.

But Phillips was hardly the talk of the offseason among Badgers quarterbacks. When spring practice kicked off last month, most wanted to see Bart Houston, the strong-armed, highly recruited redshirt freshman, or Joel Stave, who seemed to be blossoming last season as the starter before suffering a broken collarbone against Michigan State. Even Tanner McEvoy, a junior-college quarterback Wisconsin signed in February, generated more buzz than Phillips.

The fact that Phillips only entered the starting lineup following Stave's injury and Danny O'Brien's struggles keeps him under the radar.

So where do things stand as Wisconsin enters the final stretch of spring practice? Exactly how they did after the 2012 season. Phillips and Stave have been sharing reps with the first-team unit, but Phillips has consistently received the first set of reps and performed well in Saturday's scrimmage.

"I want the job," Phillips told ESPN.com last month. "I didn't come back for a sixth year and from all these surgeries to sit on the bench. That's far and away my No. 1 goal."

Wisconsin's new coaches know they have a motivated player in Phillips. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig called the sixth-year senior "a grinder" and "ultra competitive."

"Curt is a good athlete, not a great athlete," Ludwig said. "He throws a good ball, not a great ball. But he is doing everything we ask him to do. He can rally the troops."

Winning the locker room won't be a problem for Phillips if he wins the starting job. To do so, he must show he can be an effective pocket passer for a unit that finished last in the Big Ten and 111th nationally in passing a season ago.

Phillips is learning his third offensive system with the Badgers, and while new terminology and new protections prove challenging, there are similarities between Ludwig's West Coast-style scheme and the one he first learned under former coordinator Paul Chryst. He has more confidence after playing in several huge games last season, and after "finding a rhythm toward the end," he's trying to build on it.

"I want to continue to improve my game, becoming more of a pure pocket passer," Phillips said. "And then just developing more of that athleticism. By no means am I anywhere close to how I was pre-injury, but the further I get away from that, it's definitely something that I can get back."

Phillips came to Wisconsin as a true dual-threat quarterback after rushing for 3,788 yards in high school. He had 138 yards on 14 carries as a redshirt freshman in 2009 before the knee injuries started.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Phillips sustained another knee injury -- a more minor one -- in the Rose Bowl that has somewhat limited his mobility this spring. But he expects to be moving much better by preseason camp.

"I've heard Coach [Gary] Andersen mention that he wants a mobile quarterback," Phillips said. "With the athletes we have here at Wisconsin, we don't necessarily need the quarterbacks to do anything special, but at the same time, if you are able to extend the play a little bit and get the ball in those guys' hands, it's going to be big for us."

Ludwig and Andersen want to reduce the candidate pool to two by the end of the spring, and Phillips and Stave appear to be closing in on those spots. The competition undoubtedly will continue in fall camp -- McEvoy will have a chance to push the top two when he arrives -- and Andersen doesn't have a firm deadline on when they'll pick a starter.

"If it's a battle that's gone down to the wire, we'll probably let him jog onto the field for the first time and announce himself as the starter," Andersen said.

Don't be surprised if he's wearing No. 10.