Wisconsinâ€™s tradition at offensive line is deep, dating back to the likes of Paul Gruber and others before him. That tradition seems to carry on no matter what, but heading in to the 2015 season things are different with this group.
Gone are the experienced and veteran offensive linemen of the past few seasons, and in their place are a group of green and hopeful players. While thereâ€™s no doubt that returning starters Tyler Marz (left tackle) and Dan Voltz (center) form a very solid nuclues to the line, donâ€™t think this group is just ready to plug-and-play anymore.
In fact, during Sundayâ€™s media day in Madison, head coach Paul Chryst made it very clear that things are far from settled along the offensive line.
“Right now, couldnâ€™t tell you who the starting five would be,” said Chryst. “Thatâ€™s one of the things weâ€™ve got to solidify during fall camp.”
Wisconsin faces uncertainty along the offensive line because it has gotten so much younger and so much more inexperienced over the past few years. Normal attrition and a few players not working out, having to quit the game or heading to the NFL early has all affected UWâ€™s balance on the offensive line roster.
It is likely that UW could see as many as two underclassmen in starting roles come this fall, and there may be as many as three if projections from the spring turn out to be wrong.
Just how open are things? Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph wasnâ€™t afraid to say that an incoming freshman had an opportunity to make an impression and push for a potential starting spot this fall.
OC Joe Rudolph said that true FR Jon Dietzen could push for time, at least the 2-deep. More physically mature than most first-year guys.
— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) August 9, 2015
Having multiple upperclassmen take over year after year in recent past has limited the opportunities of players like Ray Ball and Walker Williams, who are candidates for starting roles. Yet, the duo have never started a game in a Badgers uniform.
Ball comes in having seen varying amounts of action in all 14 games this past season, while Williams saw action in just five games himself.
In total there are just six upperclassmen on the roster, also helping to add to the unsure nature of Wisconsinâ€™s offensive line entering fall camp. On the flip side, there are nine redshirt or true freshman on the roster heading in to Mondayâ€™s first practice.
Normally, players like Ball and Williams have built up the experience by spelling players and rotating in during different games. However, in the past few seasons the offensive line has been so unbalanced in experience levels that starters were playing more snaps and taking up more time in practice as well.
Thatâ€™s not to say players like Ball or Williams arenâ€™t capable of stepping in as starters in 2015, it just means that the normal progression of players stepping in thanks to experiences gained doesnâ€™t make it so obvious this year.
Competition for both guard spots and at right tackle should be very interesting. Ball appeared to have a good hold on the left guard position, but things can change over the course of spring and summer workouts. Heâ€™ll be pushed by redshirt sophomore Aidan McNamara, who saw action in four games last season before suffering a season ending leg injury in mid-November.
The right guard spot is even more up in the air thanks to a lack of game experience, with redshirt freshman Michael Dieter and Williams vying for the position throughout the spring.
Williams is perhaps the most intriguing player along the offensive line, as he has showcased the ability to play multiple positions and has yet to really settle on any one in particular. He saw work at both right guard and tackle spots in the past, but given the number of reps he got as spring ball went on, heâ€™s likely to be a bigger contender at right guard in fall camp.
Perhaps the most unsettled of the spots is at right tackle, where UW lined up redshirt sophomore Hayden Biegel and redshirt freshman Beau Benszchawel for most of the spring. Biegel appeared to have the inside track at the position following the spring, but it was also clear nothing was set in stone between two player with just six games of playing time under their belts.
With three spots up for grabs and no clear-cut starters at any of them heading in to fall camp, this is certainly a new position for the Badgers to be in. Having coaches like Chryst and offensive coordinator/o-line coach Joe Rudolph in place can only help to sort it all out though.
Fall camp leads up to the Week 1 matchup against Alabama, and if UW wants a chance to win that matchup it needs a settled offensive line.