The Wisconsin Badgers 2015 fall camp officially opens on Aug. 10, but following Big Ten media days it feels as if the season is finally here. Until the 10th though, we still have a lot of previewing and prognosticating to do.
Interestingly enough, as camp gets ready to start there is one position group that is a bit of a worry and usually isn’t — the offensive line.
With three starters gone and plenty of new potential starters in the mix, UW enters fall camp with a lot to sort out at the position for the first time in a long time.
So, let’s take a look at the position that matters more than any other at Wisconsin.
What We Know: Dan Voltz is a bona fide star and left tackle Tyler Marz could finally emerge as one of the top tackles in the Big Ten. Those two form the backbone of the offensive line and are great building blocks to work with.
Marz comes in to this season having started the last 27 games and being named honorable mention all-Big Ten each of the last two seasons. He’s played in 38 games over his first three years of playing time and will be counted on not only to protect the blind side of Joel Stave, but to be the anchor of this line.
Usually that job goes to the center, however for as talented as Dan Voltz is (he’s a Rimington Award watch list nominee for the 2nd straight year), he is also the most injury prone offensive lineman UW has. Voltz has started 20 games entering his junior season, but he’s struggled to finish multiple games and will need to prove he can be 100 percent healthy to become one of the best centers in the country, let alone the Big Ten. The potential is there for Voltz to reach that level, and if he does the run game could be in for another massive season.
What We Need to Find Out: Who is Ready to Step Up?
The Badgers offensive line is transitioning to players who have very little in the way of starting experience, and that can be scary. In fact, one may have to go back to the early part of the last decade to find a Badgers offensive line more in transition than this one.
Part of that is because UW has gotten younger and younger along the offensive line over the past few years. This season there’s a real possibility of the right side of the line being first-time starters in redshirt freshman Michael Deiter and sophomore Hayden Beigel at guard and tackle respectively.
However, there are also veteran names in the mix like likely starter at left guard, Ray Ball, and junior Walker Williams at guard and/or tackle on the right side of the line.
Head coach Paul Chryst gave every indication that he has no set order on the right side of the offensive line heading in to fall camp. In fact, he was emphatic that if you guessed the starters you’d know more than him at this point.
That means Chryst and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Rudolph will have a lot of sorting out to do along the offensive line, including giving a look to names like Jon Dietzen and Kevin Estes among the incoming freshman group.
Look for fall camp to include a lot more intense battles than we’ve been used to for many seasons, making things a lot more worth watching up front in fall camp.
Player to Watch: Walker Williams, OT/OG
Versatility is among the most important attributes of an offensive lineman at the University of Wisconsin. One player who exemplifies that more than others is junior Walker Williams. He’s played both tackle spots and right guard throughout his early career.
This offseason Williams was originally thought to be a primary candidate to replace the departed Rob Havenstein at right tackle. Instead, it appears Williams is much more likely to get a starting job at right guard.
It won’t be a guarantee for the talented junior, but given the need for more experience up front Williams has a built in advantage. Fall camp will be very telling for his future as a potential starter at UW, that’s for sure.
Our Projected Starters: LT Tyler Marz; LG Ray Ball; C Dan Voltz; RG Walker Williams; RT Hayden Beigel