There seems to be two different schools of thought regarding the 2018 Badger offensive line after last season:
- You thought they played well. There was no way that they were realistically going to be able to reach the expectations put on them by the media attention nationally, and despite some issues in pass protection at times, the unit was still a top five group at the position throughout college football. They featured at least four future NFL players and helped Jonathan Taylor lead the nation in rushing yards. OR:
- You think the offensive line was incredibly overrated and that the group became complacent after their offseason media attention and that you think they go eat at Red Robin too much, and you probably yell at clouds as they go by.
Regardless, moving forward the unit will look significantly different for the first time in a few seasons.
When Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst was going through his first season in 2015, he was making the best with a group that was significantly less experienced and less talented at that particular juncture than had become the standard in Madison. In the last game of that season, Wisconsin started four redshirt freshmen: Micah Kapoi, Michael Deiter, Beau Benzschawel and Jacob Maxwell. While Maxwell didn’t finish his career due to injuries, the other three have been four-year contributors for the Badgers. Now throw in right tackle David Edwards, left guard Jon Dietzen and center Tyler Biadasz all being multi-year starters, and you have a very veteran group. That will change next season.
2018 starting offensive line
Left tackle: Jon Dietzen/Cole Van Lanen
Left guard: Michael Deiter
Center: Tyler Biadasz
Right guard: Beau Benzschawel
Right tackle: Dave Edwards
Expectation No. 1: This will be a transition year for the offensive line
Now, the first thing I’m going to clarify is that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The transition phrase seems to have a negative connotation most of the time, and I don’t really feel that way about it.
However, if you just look at it from a distance, you can see what I mean. Cole Van Lanen could likely take over as the full-time left tackle, and Jon Dietzen could bump back inside to his natural home of left guard. Rising redshirt junior Tyler Biadasz will stay at center and be the leader of the group. Rising redshirt senior Jason Erdmann and re-converted offensive lineman Kayden Lyles will likely fight for the right guard position, while rising redshirt sophomore Logan Bruss is in a position to take over at right tackle for Edwards.
While a lot of these names are familiar for fans, anytime you lose three starters off of an offensive line, the next season will always be a challenge for those stepping in. Van Lanen played part-time at left tackle last season, this will be his first as a starter. Dietzen started parts of two seasons at left guard, then bumped out to left tackle, and will likely bump back to left guard. Erdmann has played both guard and center as a reserve, but has never been a consistent starter, and Lyles played defense last season. Bruss started the last three games at right tackle in place of Edwards, but it will be worth seeing how the Kimberly product continues to develop as a player and trust his technique.
Expectation 2: The offensive line will be just fine
While I am sure the national media will likely mention constantly that Wisconsin’s offensive line lost three players to the NFL, the depth that has been built at the position since Chryst took over is nothing short of impressive.
The unit will not have the name-power that it has had over the last couple of seasons, but this will be a veteran unit that can be greater than the sum of its parts.
Expectation 3: Jason Erdmann will be given every opportunity to start at right guard
This is a quick bonus one for me. Erdmann is a rising redshirt senior offensive guard who has moonlighted at center in a pinch. That type of versatility is valued up front, and as a fifth-year guy who has done a lot of dirty work for his teammates over the past few seasons, I expect the coaches to give him the chance to win the job before really making it a rotation with Lyles, which could very well end up what happens. The coaches do not owe any of the players anything, and the staff will play the players that give them the best chance to win, but the program appreciates and looks upon those who have been under-appreciated well. Erdmann could work himself into a really nice senior season.