Heading into the 2017 college football season, there are a lot of reasons for optimism in Madison. The Wisconsin Badgers’ offensive line is one of them. And when you’re the best offensive lineman of the bunch, that makes you pretty good.
Michael Deiter: pretty good.
The redshirt junior has started the last two years at both left guard and center, and will likely start 2017 at center. He could, however, be shuffled around due to offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph’s tendencies to rotate linemen throughout the game.
Deiter was listed in the spring at 6’6, 329 pounds, and he’s still getting bigger and stronger. One of Paul Chryst’s major priorities after taking over the UW head job was to re-strengthen and restore the offensive line to how it was under Bret Bielema. Deiter is one of the major indicators of that objective, and he’ll be the most heralded UW offensive lineman heading into 2017. Let’s take a look at why.
First game of the year, UW vs. LSU at Lambeau Field. LSU’s defensive front was as talented as any the Badgers would face in 2016, and would provide a nice test to start the season.
Deiter is at center to start the year. He’s going against Greg Gilmore, a 6’4, 308-pound nose tackle. Being the taller of the two, Deiter shows some nice knee bend and the ability to use leverage, even at 6’6. While Gilmore ends up getting a hand on Corey Clement, it’s impressive that Deiter was able to remain engaged with Gilmore throughout this entire play and then end it with a finish.
While no one is going to confuse ex-LSU nose tackle Travonte Valentine for a pass rusher, the 6’4, 356-pound mammoth is a load to handle for anybody. Deiter shows the ability here to anchor against the bull rush. His career at the next level is on the interior, so the ability to anchor against size inside is vital.
This is a big thing. Well, not Valentine, but he is too. Pass protection is not passive. Deiter gets some help from right guard Beau Benzschawel to influence Valentine to a side, but continues to work and run his feet, eventually pancaking the massive nose tackle—even if it was with some unintentional help from Ryan Ramczyk. Continuing to work throughout the play is a very underrated trait in an offensive lineman.
This is kind of a silver lining-type play. Deiter is at left guard here against Ohio State, and he gets worked early in the rep. Ohio State’s nickel defensive line gets pretty nasty and that group is a chore for anyone to try to block, much less an offensive line composed of mostly right guard-types. Deiter gets walked backwards initially, but is able to put the brakes on when needed and anchor against Nick Bosa. In the NFL, interior linemen have to deal with speed on pass rushes. This is a good piece of tape for Deiter to show NFL coaches.
This is a bit of an ugly play, but the little things in the trenches can go a long way. Deiter is the pulling left guard on this play and he somehow—through traffic—is able to engage Raekwon McMillan enough to allow this power play to cut it backside. Deiter’s awareness to find a body—any body—in that mess makes for an impressive play.
Sometimes your best friend as an offensive lineman is the guy next to you. In this rep vs. Jaleel Johnson, now on the Minnesota Vikings, Deiter does a good job of maintaining contact long enough for Johnson to simply get caught in traffic. He runs into the defensive lineman being blocked by Jon Dietzen and stonewalls his pass rush. This isn’t overly impressive by Deiter, but his ability to recover after the initial move by Johnson is nice.
Here’s a nice exhibit of Deiter’s nastiness. While he’s not an overly chippy or dirty player inside, plays like this are necessary. Deiter levels the nose tackle on a down block and lays on him for the remainder of the play, just to make sure. #BullyballSZN, folks.
This seems like a fitting spot to transition from the good of Michael Deiter to the bad. He does a good job of getting depth with his first step to start the reach block and actually begins to clear the defensive lineman. However, he tries to flip his hips and pin the defensive lineman too quickly, and allows the defender to cross his face. Clement made Deiter’s block right in this instance, but a solid start was derailed by Deiter flipping his hips too early.
Now let’s take a look at the things Deiter will need to improve on in 2017.
Bro, look. I get that Deiter vs. a 4.58-second-40-yard-dash linebacker is a mismatch every time. However, the biggest thing he can do here is break down and just really try to be difficult and get in Duke Riley’s way. Here, he looks like he’s going to attempt a cut, but doesn’t, and whiffs on Riley. He’s got to be more under control at the second level.
To continue on the second-level thing, Deiter is at center here and on this power play, he goes up to and, frankly, gets juked by Chris Worley, one of Ohio State’s best players. If you pay attention, Worley is the guy who tracks down Clement and nearly caused the fumble. If Deiter gets any type of piece of the much smaller Worley, Clement might still be running. This is a major area that needs improvement from Deiter.
There has been some talk around these parts and on the twitter dot com that Michael Deiter could potentially play left tackle. Please refer to my tweets.
also, I know people have brought it up, Michael Deiter has no business playing left tackle. Just because he can, doesn't mean he should.— Owen Riese (@RieseDraft) July 19, 2017
Please disregard my not-so-complimentary comments about Brett Connors, but Deiter played a little left tackle in spring ball this year and it got some people wondering if he could possibly play left tackle. While he could functionally do it, plays like the one above show he doesn’t have the hip mobility or quickness to do so. While I understand blocking a linebacker in space isn’t an enviable task, if you think Deiter won’t see pass rushers with that type of athleticism, I can’t help you.
This is the only real complaint I have about Deiter’s pass-protection technique. Again, here he is against the Ohio State tree nuts’ nickel d-line. Deiter doesn’t get much of a punch in here, instead placing his hands on the defender and working to stay in front of him. While I can’t kill him on it here, being a part of the slide protection, Deiter being more physical at the line of scrimmage—something he’s capable of doing—will make his job a bit easier.
All of this being said, I think Deiter is a fine offensive lineman, one who I wouldn’t be shocked to see leave for the NFL after this upcoming season pending his academic progress. If he were to get a Day 2 or higher grade from the NFL Advisory Committee, he could join Melvin Gordon, T.J. Watt, and Ramczyk as Badgers to recently leave after their fourth year in Madison.
Deiter will very likely be the leader of this unit headed into 2017, and the line will go as he goes given his versatility along the offensive front.