March 17, 2011

Spring outlook: Offensive line

Yes, Wisconsin loses All-American's Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt up front. And yes, those two will be difficult to replace. But it's not like the cupboard is totally bare at the position.

With coach Bob Bostad and his proven track record of coaching success returning after allegedly entertaining offers throughout the off-season, the 2011 version of the UW offensive line should be in good hands yet again.

Ricky Wagner, a former walk-on turned valuable tackle prospect, will likely anchor the left side and attempt to become the third straight left tackle to win the Outland Trophy for the nation's premier lineman.

Next to him, Travis Frederick will be chomping at the bit to get back into the flow of things after using his redshirt a season ago. If for nothing else, head coach Bret Bielema has more than enough confidence in the third-year sophomore.

"If he can do what I think he's capable of doing he could be as good of a guard as we've had strength wise and ability," Bielema said during bowl prep. "He's just got to snap in all the things around him that are going on. He's a serious kid so I'm excited to watch him play. He plays with a little edge to him. I've had to have a couple of conversations just when we're going good -good about the type of demeanor he shows on the football field.

"It's one thing when you're going against somebody else, but playing against your own guys you've got to watch out."

At center, Peter Konz will return for his junior year as one of the best centers in the Big Ten. Konz, who may be the most athletic player on the line, will likely be one of the leaders up front. And considering there will be a new quarterback and plenty of experience returning in the backfield, he will likely be responsible for keeping productivity at a high level.

Bottom line, this offensive line will have another opportunity to be superb. It may not be quite as dominant as it was a season ago, but it will definitely be one of the top units in the league.

On the right side of the line, Kevin Zeitler returns for his senior season. During Wisconsin's annual pro day a week ago, Zeitler looked like an absolute monster. His arms were essentially the size of a small tree trunk and his body looked like it was in fantastic shape.

As a guy that plays with everything he's got on every snap of the ball, he's a perfect mixer at the right guard position. He'll be an asset, particularly with the experience he's gained over the past few seasons, at the position.

At right tackle, it gets a little more interesting. Josh Oglesby, who is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered last season, will likely have an opportunity to earn his starting right tackle spot back. But, of course, that will have to wait until fall camp as the senior will miss the entirety of spring camp.

In his absence, look for a guy like Casey Dehn to step up and provide valuable reps during spring camp at the right tackle position. He presents a big body that would fit right in at the tackle position. He's tall, lengthy, strong and quick with his feet. That's essentially what is needed at that position. With Oglesby down, he will get a chance to earn valuable reps and will have a chance to carry that momentum into the start of fall camp.

Spring camp is also a prime opportunity for other young players to gain valuable reps up front. You look at players such as Robert Burge and Sam Edmiston over at left tackle and Rob Havenstein and Riki Kodanko at right tackle and you start realizing there are some huge bodies waiting in the wings to play on UW's heralded offensive line.

Behind Frederick at left guard, a guy like Ryan Groy, who played multiple roles a season ago including a bit of fullback, will have an opportunity to match skills with Frederick.

Opposite him, players such as Zac Matthias (might be clubbed up during spring camp) and Dallas Lewallen will have a chance to open the eyes of Bostad. Remember, Bostad has historically played the best five players on the line and most of these players have to be versatile to get a legitimate chance to play at UW. So guys like Matthias, Lewallen, Groy and Burge could force UW to shuffle players around if they play well enough.

That right tackle position, at least in the spring, should be pretty open.

Finally, what will a player like Jake Current, now a senior, accomplish during his final spring camp. Will he finally make a push to garner some regular playing time? That remains to be seen because he's behind one of the better center prospects in the entire league.

Barring an injury to Konz, Current probably wouldn't pass him on the depth chart. But again, if he plays at a high level he could potentially force the coaches to at least consider playing him somewhere else on the line.

SPRING CAMP PREDICTION:

Really, it seems as though the starting five is more than set. With Wagner, Frederick, Konz, Zeitler and Dehn anchoring the group, there is plenty of experience up front. The only position that could be up for grabs is at right tackle and that all depends on the recovery of Oglesby.

Should he get completely healthy by the time fall camp rolls around, it looks as though the starting offensive line would be set. In the meantime, expect Dehn to fully take advantage of his opportunity in Oglesby's absence.

Another interesting prospect to keep an eye on is Lewallen. He was named scout team player of the year a season ago and seems to play with a bit of an edge that most of the really good guards need to posses. This could be a chance for him to break into the two deep.

Otherwise, most of the depth chart jostling across the line will be for a spot in the two deep. At this juncture, barring injury, UW's offensive line returns enough talent and depth to essentially highlight what the starting five would be.

Unless someone storms out of the gate and really plays at a high level, expect that front line to turn out the way many are predicting.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART:

Left tackle:

RICKY WAGNER: R-JR
ROBERT BURGE - R-JR
SAM EDMISTON - R-FR

Left guard:

TRAVIS FREDERICK: R-SOPH
RYAN GROY: R-SOPH

Center:

PETER KONZ: R-JR
JAKE CURRENT: SR

Right guard:

KEVIN ZEITLER: SR
ZAC MATTHIAS: R-SOPH
DALLAS LEWALLEN: SOPH

Right tackle:

CASEY DEHN: R-SOPH
ROB HAVENSTEIN: R-FR
RIKI KODANKO: R-FR




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