Well, it's been over two months since Wisconsin defeated USC in the Holiday Bowl. With spring practice right around the corner, it's time to start building this team's offensive identity. Unlike last year, the offensive line will likely be the focal point of the Badgers' success in 2016.
In 2015, Wisconsin returned two starters from a group that helped block for over 4,000 rushing yards in Melvin Gordon's final season in Madison. However, last season the Badgers struggled with both continuity as well as execution. Wisconsin cycled through eight different starters along the offensive line, and that's including senior Tyler Marz starting every game at left tackle. At one point, the Badgers started a different player at right tackle in three consecutive weeks, and ended the season starting four redshirt freshmen on the offensive line.
Despite the peaks and valleys the unit ran into in 2015, they certainly finished on one of those peaks. The future is bright, as the Badgers' top incoming recruit is an offensive lineman, and possibly one of the more talented lineman on the roster is coming off of a redshirt season. The unit will be stacked with talent as well as depth heading into 2016.
OT: Jacob Maxwell, Beau Benzschawel, Ryan Ramczyk,
OG: Michael Deiter, Micah Kapoi, Walker Williams
C: Dan Voltz
Looking to see the field: Ryan Ramczyk, Jon Dietzen, George Panos, Brett Connors, David Moorman, Kevin Estes, Logan Schmidt, Ian Dretzka, Jason Erdmann, Ben Hemer.
Tyler Marz (graduation), Ray Ball (left team), Aidan McNamara (unknown), Jaden Gault (left team), Hayden Biegel (health),
Additions to position
Cole Van Lanen (four-star recruit), Patrick Kasl (three-star recruit), Tyler Biadasz? (three-star OL/DL recruit)
X-factors: Jon Dietzen, Ryan Ramczyk
Arguably, the two offensive linemen getting the most buzz headed into spring practices are two guys who could start this season after not playing a down last year
Dietzen, a four-star recruit from 2014, redshirted last season. Despite midseason rumblings of the possibility of UW burning his redshirt, offensive line coach Joe Rudolph held off on the highly touted mauler from Seymour, Wis. Dietzen has the size and athleticism to challenge for either guard spot immediately, and while it's unlikely that he'll beat out Michael Deiter (one of the more impressive linemen from last season), the right guard spot could be up for grabs depending on the route the coaching staff goes on the right side of the line.
Ramczyk, a transfer from UW-Stevens Point last season, will look to challenge for the left tackle spot vacated by NFL hopeful Tyler Marz. Coming out of high school, the Stevens Point native received interest from Paul Chryst while he was at Pitt, but Ramczyk ultimately stayed home at Division III UWSP. While the jump in competition will be staggering, the transfer season will ease that quite a bit. It's not often that a player transfers up two divisions, so look for Ramczyk to be a player in the spring and headed into the fall.
"Way-too-early" prediction for starting lineup
LT Ryan Ramczyk
LG Michael Deiter
C Dan Voltz
RG Beau Benzschawel
RT Jacob Maxwell
The Badgers are really in a bit of an odd, but good, position at this juncture. They have nine to 10 legitimate options for five starting positions. Due to injuries last season, the line sorted itself out, to an extent. Now with everyone healthy again, along with newcomers coming in, it's a crowded group with plenty of talent to succeed. Here's another option that could happen, aside from my initial prediction:
LT Jacob Maxwell,
LG Michael Deiter
C Dan Voltz
RG Micah Kapoi
RT Beau Benzschawel
Wisconsin could also interchange Dietzen or Walker Williams at right guard, or Ramczyk at either tackle spot as well.
Ultimately, Wisconsin is in really good shape here. My guess is that Ramcyzk will get the first crack at left tackle. He dominated the lower levels, and was brought in for a reason when Chryst got the job. He's also the most athletic of the tackles on the roster. Deiter was very solid for Wisconsin last season. There was talk that, while he redshirted in 2014, he was ready to play if needed. He likely could have started on more than one offensive line in the Big Ten, but was able to sit and learn during his redshirt year. He also preformed admirably at center following Dan Voltz' injury.
Speaking of Voltz, the elder statesman of the group, he has started for three seasons but has finished only one completely due to injuries. He's coming off of a torn ACL vs. Illinois last year, but should be good to go by fall camp. When he's on the field, he's among the best pivots in the country.
Beau Benzschawel played played well at right tackle last year, but played better when he was kicked inside to guard and Maxwell was placed at right tackle. This switched added a dimension of athleticism to the unit, and played well in the last two games of the season.
Waiting in the wings for an injury are as follows: OT Cole Van Lanen (if not redshirted), OG Walker Williams, OG Micah Kapoi, and OG Jon Dietzen.
Like I mentioned earlier, the Badgers have a really good problem on their hands in this situation. Wisconsin is only graduating two players after 2016, and with at least three commitments already in the 2017 class, the position will be as talented and will have as much depth as it has had in years. Under Chryst, Wisconsin will run the ball, folks.