Lucas at Large: 'Interview' wins starting job for O'Brien

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Danny O'Brien didn't bring a written resume to his job interview, a 16-practice Q&A on the X's and O's. But his play on the field, even his presence in the huddle, spoke to his 17 starts at Maryland. That game experience shaped him and helped him earn the job, the quarterback job at Wisconsin.

There were other factors, too, not the least of which were O'Brien's "field awareness'' and ''ball security'' the last two weeks. That was the evaluation of tailback Montee Ball, who guesstimated that O'Brien "threw about 350 passes with just two interceptions in all those practices, and that's amazing.''

Once it became official that O'Brien had beaten out Curt Phillips and Joel Stave for the starting assignment in the UW's season opener, Ball said, "I've seen a side in him today (Monday) that I hadn't seen before. His confidence level has shot up and he's taking more of a leadership role.''

Left guard Ryan Groy saw some of those things in O'Brien's make-up  from the very beginning, which extended all the way back to O'Brien's recruiting trip to Madison in late March. "He knew what he was talking about when we talked football,'' recalled Groy, one of his campus hosts.

On the field, Groy said that O'Brien let his actions do the talking and they also spoke loudly to those 17 starts. "I saw a player who had experience,'' Groy observed. "I could tell he wasn't worried in the pocket, he wasn't skittish. He knew his looks and where he was going to go (with the ball).''

Groy added that the competition with Phillips and Stave may have brought out the best in O'Brien. "Competition helps the whole team regardless of what position it is,'' he suggested. "A couple of other places told Danny that he'd come in and start right away.

"Here, they told him, 'You're going to have to fight for the spot.' He knew that coming in. He even asked me what I thought about the other quarterbacks.  I told him the same thing, 'It's going to be a fight.' Now that he's got the spot, I think he's going to bring a little more leadership to the position.''

There are obvious benefits to naming a starter. Besides the receivers who can develop their timing, Groy said, "We can all start jelling together and start getting use to each other. It's different having different quarterbacks in the huddle all the time; different cadences, different ways they say it.''

O'Brien, who has two years of eligibility, was saying the same thing after Monday's practice.

"It's nice, honestly, getting all the No. 1 reps,'' he admitted. " You can get more and more comfortable, not only with the game plan, but with the guys. Every day the chemistry is going to get better and better. It's something I'm used to -- preparing as a starter -- you can't get too good at that.''

Don't expect him to change anything about the way he conducts his business.

"You have to be the same guy every day if you're a quarterback,'' said O'Brien, a Minneapolis native. "You don't want to win the job and, then, all of a sudden, be a different guy in the huddle. I'm the same guy from Day One until now in terms of how I lead, and everything like that.''

Acknowledging that Phillips and Stave pushed him daily in practice, O'Brien said, "I don't think you can take that for granted. You're heading down the wrong road, if you think, 'I'm going to be given the spot.' It's something that me and Coach B (Bret Bielema) talked about before I committed here.

"He told me, 'You're going to have to work for it' and I came in with that mentality, and I'm going to continue with that same mentality. You never want to take things for granted in football.''

Asked how Phillips and Stave have handled the situation since he was appointed the starter, O'Brien said, "Anyone who didn't win (the competition) would be disappointed. But they're great guys and they congratulated me and I said, 'Let's keep working' because you still want to push each other.''

At Maryland, he was named the starting quarterback the fourth game of his redshirt freshman season and he went on to be honored as the 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year. O'Brien went into 2011 as the Terps' starter, lost his job, regained his job, and then broke his arm, ending his season in mid-November.

"I've been in quarterback competitions since my true freshman year, whether it was for the third string spot, the back-up spot, or the starting spot,'' he said. "In terms of pressure, I might not have felt it as much (here) because this is something I'm very used to.

"The great thing about being here now is that it's clean slate. I've been through a lot -- really high and really low at Maryland -- so being here with a new set of guys is really special. That's the way it feels but we have to go out and keep earning it now.''

In the end, how much weight did O'Brien's previous experience in a BCS program carry in the competition with Phillips and Stave? "I think with 17 starts, you kind of get a vibe for how real game situations go and all that kind of thing,'' O'Brien said. "It's something you can't get too good at again.''

Before tweeting his choice, Bielema called O'Brien into his office Sunday and broke the news. "I thanked him for the opportunity,'' O'Brien said, "and I told him that I wasn't going to let him down.''
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