Southpaw QB must nail down timing on throws

Alex Hornibrook had a record-setting day via the air, completing 18 of his 19 pass attempts in Wisconsin's blowout win over BYU.

Image By: Jessi Schoville

The Wisconsin Badgers have their starting quarterback firmly entrenched this spring—a luxury that’s been difficult to come by in recent years.

All eyes have been on the competition behind Alex Hornibrook, but as a result, the redshirt sophomore’s development seems to have been overlooked in the process.

Hornibrook was among the starters who sat out of Friday night’s Spring Game, but over the course of all 15 spring practices, it was apparent that the third-year lefty remains largely the same quarterback he was last season, for better and for worse.

The biggest, visible difference is his confidence. Hornibrook was named the starter back on March 13, and he acts like it. He’s more decisive in the pocket, and he’s clearly taken a bigger leadership role within the offense because he’s now the most experienced QB they’ve got.

“Now that I’m the oldest guy in the room, it’s a different feel in the quarterback room every day,” Hornibrook said. “The big thing for me was just kind of applying what I was working on in the offseason, be it the offense, the reads, pocket movements, and I saw some improvements there.”

The intangible development is certainly a welcome sight for this coaching staff and roster, but when the ball is in his hands and the plays are live, Hornibrook still displays most of the same weaknesses that held him back in 2016.

It’s no secret that his arm lacks velocity. That’s not going to change, but that’s also not an issue, in a vacuum. You don’t have to have a cannon attached to your shoulder to play quarterback at a high level, but you do need to have anticipation and timing—two areas Hornibrook continues to struggle to develop.

Even as a redshirt freshman last year, he was far superior to co-starter Bart Houston in his ability to read coverages and make smart decisions with the football. That, combined with Hornibrook’s consistent footwork and improving pocket presence, left the young quarterback with a very bright future.

The issue is, he’s still late with the ball far too often on throws at practice. The vast majority of the time when his throws are broken up or even intercepted, it’s because he didn’t get the ball out soon enough.

If he had a stronger arm, it would make up for the extra second he waited to get the pass off, but because Hornibrook has to get a little bit more air under his throws downfield, it gives defenders just enough time to get in position to make a play on the ball.

If Hornibrook could better anticipate the receiver getting open, he could release the ball a second earlier and the velocity wouldn’t be an issue. A stronger arm would help solve the problem, but his lack of arm strength isn’t causing the issue.

This is what held him back in 2016, and he needs to continue to grow in this area if he wants to take his game to the next level. Even his worst throws are rarely a bad decision with the ball. It’s the execution and timing of the throw that needs improvement, and the only way to develop this aspect is with experience.

“I’ll take time to get all of the plays that I ran this spring, and look at those and see places that I can improve on that I wouldn’t really be looking into that much every single day,” Hornibrook said. “Just taking something that I can grow on from the spring and applying it for the summer.”

The offseason is the time to identify and improve on the weaknesses in his game. Hornibrook knows he still has work to do, even with the starting quarterback job already locked in place.

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