Not many units throughout the Big Ten Conference can claim that they’ll be improved despite losing their top talent at a position (NFL first-round draft pick Ryan Ramczyk), but that’s the situation for the Wisconsin Badgers’ offensive line heading into the 2017 season.
Returning four starters—technically five with the returning Jacob Maxwell—the UW rushing attack will be the closest it has been to hitting on all cylinders since Melvin Gordon rushed for almost 2,600 yards during the 2014 season.
As B5Q recently highlighted about the evolution of the position group, the lack of upperclassmen on the offensive line since Paul Chryst took over in 2015 has led to an abundance of depth, which was a priority when taking over the program.
Wisconsin’s 2017 Offensive Linemen
|David Edwards||R-SO||6'7||306||Downers Grove, Ill.|
|Jon Dietzen||R-SO||6'6||334||Black Creek, Wis.|
|Michael Deiter||R-JR||6'6||329||Curtice, Ohio|
|Beau Benzschawel||R-JR||6'6||316||Grafton, Wis.|
|Jacob Maxwell||R-JR||6'6||323||Greendale, Wis.|
|Cole Van Lanen||R-FR||6'5||303||Green Bay, Wis.|
|Micah Kapoi||R-JR||6'3||335||Kapolei, Hawaii|
|Brett Connors||R-JR||6'6||301||New Berlin, Wis.|
|Ian Dretzka||R-SO||6'6||321||Delafield, Wis.|
|David Moorman||R-SO||6'5||305||Northville, Mich.|
|Patrick Kasl||R-FR||6'5||315||Wyoming, Minn.|
|Tyler Biadasz||R-FR||6'3||307||Amherst, Wis.|
|Jason Erdmann||R-SO||6'6||325||Richfield, Wis.|
|Kevin Estes||R-SO||6'5||263||San Marcos, Calif.|
|Kayden Lyles||FR||6'3||318||Madison, Wis.|
|Tyler Beach||FR||6'6||280||Grafton, Wis.|
|Josh Seltzner||FR||6'5||310||Columbus, Wis.|
|Logan Bruss||FR||6'5||270||Appleton, Wis.|
|Alex Fenton||FR||6'5||290||Menomonie, Wis.|
|Blake Smithback||FR||6'3||290||Waunakee, Wis.|
David Edwards, Jon Dietzen, Michael Deiter, Beau Benzschawel, and Maxwell, presumably, will be the starting unit facing the vaunted Utah State front in Madison on a somewhat controversial Friday night opener on Sept. 1 at Camp Randall Stadium. There are three redshirt juniors and two redshirt sophomores in this lineup.
However, the starting five could very easily be different. Redshirt junior Micah Kapoi rotated frequently with Dietzen at left guard. Brett Connors, another redshirt junior, could also see some time after starting a few games last season.
A few redshirt freshmen could potentially see some playing time. Redshirt freshman Tyler Biadasz emerged in the spring at center and worked in with the first-team offense often. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in April, Biadasz’s progression last season made UW’s coaches wonder if he should receive playing time even then.
If he sees reps at center in 2017, that would bump Deiter to left guard (or even left tackle, as seen during the latter part of spring practices due to an Edwards injury).
A former four-star recruit, Cole Van Lanen could potentially play either tackle position but seems to have a prototypical left tackle body. In Wisconsin’s offense, he’s a mauler in the run game who is athletic enough as a pass blocker.
Patrick Kasl is an athletic freak, earning the top-scoring SPARQ offensive lineman score in the class of 2016. Like Biadasz and Van Lanen, he redshirted this past season, but the Minnesota product took first-team reps during the spring with Maxwell out with his shoulder injury.
“I think the biggest thing for both of them have become smarter,” Deiter said in April about both Biadasz and Kasl. “They’re not playing as young as they used to. Mentally, they’re coming around big time, and physically, they’re making strides in technique and stuff like that. They’re seeing the game a lot better—they’re seeing it through a little more of an older player’s eyes to get right fits, right calls. It ultimately slows down for you when you can see it.”
I think that the coaching staff would prefer to roll with Edwards and Maxwell as much as possible at tackle, but they’ve shown their willingness to rotate linemen and will get their best players on the field.
Newcomers include Kayden Lyles, whose role could mirror Biadasz’s predicament last year and who in all likelihood will redshirt after enrolling early. Depending upon his progress, the Wisconsin legacy could travel in case of an emergency. Kimberly, Wis., recruit Logan Bruss will more than likely stick at guard, as his explosive athleticism will be a huge plus on power running plays as a pulling guard.
Port Washington, Wis., tackle Tyler Beach presents a lot of upside but will likely sit and redshirt this season with at least four scholarship tackles remaining—the oldest being a fourth-year junior.
Alex Fenton is an athletic project from Menomonie, Wis., who played tackle and even some tight end in high school, and his path could be the most cloudy of the newcomers. It’s yet to be seen what position Fenton will stick at, but he will provide youth and depth wherever the coaching staff puts him.