MADISON, Wis. - Had someone said that junior quarterback Scott Tolzien had a legitimate shot to win the starting job prior to fall camp, it would have been tough to believe them. At the time, it was Dustin Sherer and Curt Phillips's battle and Tolzien was the third wheel.
What a difference a few weeks made.
"He's just a steady performer," Bielema said. "He doesn't get overly rattled in any situation and he's very, very intelligent. The part that probably jumped out to me, and not necessarily the fact that Scott Tolzien is the starter, is accuracy.
"There's a time and a belief if the receiver's open, you're going to have a completion. Well, bottom line, there still has to be a throw and a catch and Scott's done a lot better job of being able to do that."
But with the starting quarterback slot comes plenty of responsibility and plenty of attention. As a player that has only minimal game action over his career, this new title will undeniably amp the pressure up for the junior signal caller.
"I also told him (Tolzien), 'Hey, I want to see how you handle the pressure being the starting quarterback," Bielema said. "And how he does that, could affect how long he has this opportunity in there next Saturday."
The depth chart listed Tolzien first, but it was followed with an 'OR' that left the door open for Phillips to get plenty of game time. During camp, Phillips had definite ups and downs. But the fact he has the ability to make plays with his feet will keep him in the rotation for consistent playing time this season.
But, with the opener still over a week away, both players still have a number of practices to improve their standing with the UW coaching staff and determine the way game reps will be distributed.
"Those two guys will see action in Northern Illinois," Bielema said. "How they do in the next six practices is really going to determine how much that happens."
What about Sherer?:
Sherer entered fall camp as the guy with the most experience and the No. 1 slot solidified. However, after inconsistencies and ill-advised decision making plagued him throughout camp, he slid down the depth chart and currently finds himself behind both Tolzien and Phillips.
It is a bit of a fall from grace that could make any player, let alone a fifth year senior, lose faith in his ability to contribute to the program. Bielema, though, insists that is not the case with Sherer.
"I brought him in today," Bielema said. "I was a senior starter that went through a significant injury my senior year and never saw the field back again when the underclassmen took my spot. I shared with him that experience.
"The thing I really know about Dustin is he loves and cares about this program a lot and I told him, and I fully believe this in my heart. There's going to be a point in time this year that this team is going to need Dustin Sherer to help us win a football game and my bet is he'll be there to do it."
Nick Toon's emergence:
Though it wasn't surprising that Nick Toon was listed as a starting wide receiver, it did speak to the way he has been able to steadily improve throughout his young career.
Last season, his first year logging game time, Toon started making more plays as the season progressed. Then, during spring camp, Toon was physically much more confident in his abilities and has become a major target for the quarterback.
"Nick has done a good job of catching the football," Bielema said. "He's really made improvements in his weaknesses. One of the things we stressed at the end of spring ball to our guys is we all know our strengths, but what are you going to do to improve your weaknesses.
"I think Nick's done that and he's really competed."
Zeitler solidifies role as right guard:
Bill Nagy has all the tools to be the starting right guard. But after a July scooter accident derailed his fall camp, freshman Kevin Zeitler took the opening and ran with it.
Zeitler is the type that is willing to do whatever needed to help the team. He is incredibly focused on the tasks at hand and it's that mentality that is paying dividends now.
"Kevin is the number one right guard," Bielema said. "He's really, as you guys know, a very focused young man. He has played at a level, I thought him and really Jake Bscherer, as two guys, might have made the biggest jumps from last spring to where they are now.
"I really like the development."
Scouting Northern Illinois:
Thursday marked the first day the coaching staff handed out scouting reports for Northern Illinois. Though the Huskies lost a lot of talent from a season ago, including the No. 16 overall pick in Larry English, they still return a quarterback and other players from a team looking to bounce back from 6-6 season.
"They did lose some very, very good football players," Bielema said. "But they're quarterback is back who has been their main feature back when he's healthy. He's kind of a dual threat. They do a lot of things similar to what we do too. They run some power and some different things that fit well against our offense and defense.
"They're a very physical football team and they're very well coached. I know that they're not holding any punches."