Wisconsin Spring Football: No Excuses for Thin Offensive Line

US PRESSWIRE

The Badgers are down to about eight healthy linemen for the five spots along the offensive line. But with upperclassmen like Ryan Groy and Rob Havenstein maintaing their valuable roles, there's been no room for excuses.

When Wisconsin splits into position groups during spring practice, ironically it is the offensive line that is the thinnest as a result of injuries that have plagued almost half of the players who man the front line.

With the depleted roster the offensive line is dealing with, most positions have no one backup, obviously putting more of a burden on healthy players. Although the lack of subs can take a toll on Wisconsin's big men, they are not using it as an excuse.

"It's the Big Ten now, you're going to have injuries," first-year offensive line coach T.J. Woods said. "Every year, it's going to be like that. So, we've got to be able to be multiple and be able to play different positions and have different lineups and still execute at a high level."

Wisconsin's offensive line was already dealt a heavy blow in the offseason, losing both center Travis Fredrick and tackle Ricky Wagner to likely NFL careers.

The o-line they're leaving behind now faces even more adversity with only eight healthy players left to fill five positions.

Though the health of the line is a legitimate concern junior right tackle Rob Havenstein says the group still knows it's only the spring and there is plenty of time for players to get healthy.

"Right now we're in spring ball, so that's what we're dealing with," Havenstein said. "Obviously it's kind of in the back of our minds, but that's where it's got to stay because right now we're thinking about getting better each practice. Because we've got people out, people have to step up. We need everyone to get reps, including myself. I need as many as I can get."

While Woods and his linemen are focused on getting better rather than worrying about the injury situation, head coach Gary Andersen is more than aware of what the offensive line is going through.

In response to having so few healthy linemen, Andersen has taken a bit of the load off of the line by calling practices short and even turning April 20's spring game into more of a glorified practice.

Furthermore, fifth-year senior Ryan Groy says having so few players on the line right now could actually end up being a blessing in disguise.

"I think [having so many guys out] is fine," Groy said. "Guys need reps as much as they can and that's what spring's for. So, guys are moving around, playing left side, right side and I think it's overall going to help us."

Groy is one of the linemen who has had to shuffle around the line this spring, spending a majority of the time at left tackle during spring practice and not left guard, where he started 12 games for the Badgers last season.

"We need a lot of people to get a lot of different reps at different positions because we don't know where people will be playing at. I might be playing at free safety next year," Havenstein said with a smile.

Still, the linemen know they represent a group with a proud tradition of excellence at Wisconsin, and they're responsible for persevering through the injuries and thin depth chart to improve.

"We've been behind the eight ball," Havenstein said. "This is the Wisconsin offensive line. We have to be the ones to set the tempo and say, ‘This is how it's going to be all game. Step up or no.' A couple practices, we haven't been doing that. Myself included. Coach Woods has challenged us; come off the ball, play with more violence and just play better."

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