Last season did not necessarily go as planned for Graham Mertz.
The former four-star recruit entered 2021 as a second-year starter at Wisconsin with hopes of elevating the offense and helping guide them to a Big Ten West title.
However, a rocky start to the season for both Mertz and the entire Wisconsin offense led to the Badgers missing out on the Big Ten Championship Game and finishing with a 9-4 overall record. While that record would be wildly successful for many programs across the country, for Mertz and Wisconsin, it failed to meet expectations.
Overall, the Badgers concluded last season ranking outside the top 100 in several key passing metrics, while Mertz completed under 60% of his pass attempts with 10 touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions.
As a result, head coach Paul Chryst and Graham Mertz attacked the off-season and made some changes entering the 2022 campaign.
Chryst brought in a new offensive coordinator in Bobby Engram from the Baltimore Ravens, and thus far, Engram and Mertz have bonded quickly. "Whether it be going out to lunch or sitting down watching tape, it's been great. Our relationship is getting stronger and stronger," Mertz said of his new coach. "We have that trust that I can come to him with things, he comes to me with things, and truly just narrow down the offense, getting ready to go."
Trust has also been shared publicly by head coach Paul Chryst who is expecting improved play from his redshirt junior signal-caller. "I really just want him to trust himself and go play. But play with consistency and understand that we have a lot of trust in him," Chryst told local media members.
Chryst would go on to say that trust comes with a responsibility to perform, but one area of off-season preparation that Mertz has embraced is film study. He credits his head coach, coach Engram, and graduate assistant Keller Chryst for helping him improve his approach to watching tape. "They've kind of laid the groundwork and just showed me, this is how we would do it, and I add my tweaks to it. Just really, how can I max out my time, that's the biggest thing I've learned from them," Mertz said during local media day.
Mertz has also taken on a more vocal leadership role within the team. During practice on Monday, the junior quarterback was hands-on, showing and teaching wide receiver Markus Allen and sophomore running back Braelon Allen what he is looking for in between drills. Additionally, Mertz helped organize throwing sessions all summer long with his new group of wide receivers, working to improve communication ahead of fall camp. "We got together with Graham every week. Two or three times a week running routes, working on offense, formations, shifts, things like that, trying to clean everything up so that when we get to camp and the first game, we are ready to go," freshman wide receiver Skyler Bell told All Badgers in an interview.
Beyond streamlining his film habits and building rapport with his teammates and coaches, Mertz also reshaped his body this summer, focused on fundamentals, and tried to strike a better balance in his approach. After playing at 227 pounds last season, Mertz shed 11 pounds this off-season and is hovering around 216 pounds this fall. In better shape, Mertz has been able to "narrowed down on fundamentals to be consistent," with an emphasis on footwork. "My word's been consistency all year, and that's what I'm going to do."
Heading into the 2022 season, Paul Chryst clearly has the same goals for Mertz, saying he wants Graham to "play with great confidence and consistency, and understand that he is doing his part when he can make all those around him better," this fall.
After three years in the program, Mertz believes the adversity he has faced and his development into a man has him more confident this fall. "Going through that entire process the past two years, three years really, that's what gives you that genuine confidence to go out there and rip it," Mertz said in The Camp feature produced by UW.
With the hopes of another Big Ten West title on the line in 2022, the Wisconsin offense will need to be better. Based on the early returns from fall camp, things appear to be trending in that direction, but Mertz's focus on improvement and consistency will need to show up on Saturdays this fall to make it happen.
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