It's Monday morning of our first game week of the season, and boy does it feel good to say that. We started our 'Badger Breakdown' series last week, and we'll continue that leading up to game day on Saturday.
This morning I get to break down the offensive line, which is a treat for me since it's annually one of the strongest position groups not just at Wisconsin, but in the entire country.
There's no doubt that Wisconsin's front five is going to look a bit different this season. From a season ago, the Badgers lost starting center Peter Konz, starting guard Kevin Zeitler, and starting right tackle Josh Oglesby. Zeitler was drafted in the first round by the Bengals, Konz in the second by the Falcons, and Oglesby signed as an undrafted free agent with the Redskins.
On top of losing three NFL caliber linemen, Wisconsin also has to deal with the transition of losing offensive line coach Bob Bostad, who joined Paul Chryst's staff at Pitt.
If there's any school in the country that can battle through this adversity, it's the Wisconsin Badgers.
Arguably the most important piece of the puzzle has been the addition of Mike Markuson, the new offensive line coach. Markuson joins the Badgers after 14 years coaching in the SEC with Ole Miss and Arkansas.
Returning starter Travis Frederick talked recently about the transition from Bostad to Markuson.
"Our relationship with Coach Markuson has really grown over the last six months that he's been here. We got to know him a little bit right away before spring ball started, and got to know him on kind of a personal level," Frederick noted.
"We had some issues in spring ball, some bumps along the way. I think anyone having a new coach will have that, but towards the end of spring ball we started to get those ironed out."
Frederick will also have a large say this season in terms of how efficient Wisconsin's offensive line performs. A starter at left guard last season, Frederick will move to center for the 2012 season. One of just two returning starters, Frederick will be counted upon by Markuson to provide a consistent presence in the middle of his line.
While he was the regular left guard for the Badgers last season, Frederick is no stranger to the center position. In fact, Frederick has started four games at center during his Wisconsin career. The 6'4, 338 pound junior started two games as a true freshman at center, and two more again last year as a red-shirt junior.
A consensus second team All-Big Ten performer a year ago, Frederick has been tabbed to the pre-season watch lists for both the Rimington and Outland Trophies.
If anyone is more important than Frederick on this years offensive line, it's starting left tackle Ricky Wagner. A fifth year senior out of West Allis, Wagner is the veteran presence Wisconsin needs to protect starting quarterback Danny O'Brien's blind side.
In his third year as a full time starter and his second at left tackle, much is expected of Wagner this season. A two-time honorable mention All-Big Ten pick, Wagner is a pre-season Outland Trophy favorite.
The Outland trophy has special relevance to the left tackle position at Wisconsin, as the previous two starting left tackles at Wisconsin before Wagner both won the award. I'm not sure but you might have heard of them, Gabe Carimi of the Chicago Bears, and Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns?
After winning the award, both Thomas and Carimi went on to become first round draft picks in the NFL. Wagner is looking to replicate their path, as early projections have Wagner as a first round talent for the 2013 draft.
After Wagner and Frederick—who were both named team captains—things start to become a bit more unsettling for the big boys up front looking to clear holes for Montee Ball, James White and company.
Ryan Groy has the most experience between the rest of the players who are expected to see time up front for the Badgers this season. A red-shirt junior from Middleton, Groy saw action in all fourteen games for the Badgers last season which included two starts—two at left guard, and two at center.
Groy is an athletic big man at 6'5, 318 pounds and will be someone that Markuson will lean on as one of the more seasoned veterans on this line. One of Groy's starts last season came in the Big Ten Championship game against Michigan State, so Groy is no stranger to the big stage.
The projected starter at right tackle for the Badgers this season is Rob Havenstein. A red-shirt sophomore out of Maryland, Havenstein is a mountain of a man. Wisconsin always has big offensive lines, but at 6'8, 343 pounds, Havenstein is nearly impossible to miss.
While he's still clearly the largest starting offensive lineman that the Badgers have, Havenstein has done a lot of work to trim his body into the 343 pounds that will show up on game day. When Havenstein arrived on campus as a freshman, he weighed over 380 pounds.
While he's started in just one game as a Badger—a win over South Dakota—Havenstein saw action in thirteen games for Wisconsin last season. As Markuson said, coaches "search the world to find 'em," referring to players with Havenstein's size and talent level.
The only true open competition on the offensive line for the Badgers this season is at right guard, where the position is still up for grabs with just five days to go until the Badgers open up their season against Northern Iowa at Camp Randall.
Costigan, who is making the transition this season from defensive line to the offensive line, had been working with the first unit up until recently. Head coach Bret Bielema noted late last week that Costigan has been a bit beat up recently. Bielema also applauded the work that Matthias has done in camp, leaving the door wide open as we approach game day.
The dark-horse in the right guard battle is Voltz. The Barrington, Illinois native graduated high school early last season to join the Badgers in time for spring ball. Enrolling early has certainly put Voltz in a position to contribute as a freshman, although I'm sure Wisconsin wouldn't mind protecting his red-shirt.
In addition to guard, Voltz is experienced at center and played there much of the spring. If there happened to be an injury up front that required shuffling of players, Voltz's versatility makes him a very viable commodity.
At the end of the day, I think you can expect that Wisconsin's offensive line is once again going to be a dominant unit. Frederick and Wagner are two of the best players in the country at their respective positions, and Groy and Havenstein are experienced enough that becoming full time starters should be a relatively smooth transition.
If the Badgers can find a true starter at the right guard position, you can expect another outstanding season of football from the UW offensive line.
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