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Wisconsin Football: Offensive Line Preview

The boys up front are looking to get back to their dominating ways in 2022.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 Wisconsin at Illinois Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Wisconsin football opens its season at Camp Randall on September 3rd where they’ll take on the Illinois State Redbirds. The Badgers are finishing up Fall camp and transitioning into game week, which means it’s time to get you prepped for what you should expect to see from each position group this Fall.

Next up is the offensive line!

Depth Chart Projection (projected starter in bold)

Left Tackle: Jack Nelson, Nolan Rucci

Left Guard: Tyler Beach, Dylan Barrett

Center: Joe Tippman, Tanor Bortolini

Right Guard: Michael Furtney, Trey Wedig

Right Tackle: Riley Mahlman, Logan Brown

SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl - Wisconsin v Arizona State Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

2022 Position Preview

The Wisconsin Badgers are basically a factory when it comes to producing NFL-worthy linemen. While Wisconsin running backs have typically been the ones to rush away with the individual hardware and accolades it’s the BIG BADGERS up front that are creating room for breakout plays. NFL teams have noticed enough that almost half, or seven, of Wisconsin’s 16 first-round draft picks since 1999 are offensive linemen. Wisconsin: We eat cheese and produce linemen.

Last year Wisconsin created space for almost 3,000 rushing yards, 2,966 yards to be specific. The Badgers averaged 4.8 per attempt, 26 touchdowns, and 210 rushing yards per game. On the other side of the coin they allowed 17 sacks for a loss of 139 yards and 224 yards lost on the rush.

Overall, there’s experience on this front. The Badgers return three of last year’s five starters in center Joe Tippmann, guard Tyler Beach, and left tackle Jack Nelson.

Center Joe Tippmann is being talked about as a potential Outland Trophy candidate. Don’t just take my word for it, The Football Writers Association of America, the group that awards the prestigious trophy to the nation’s top linemen, has named him to their watch list along with fellow Badger Senior DT Keeanu Benton. Wisconsin has won the nomination twice before but hasn’t taken home the honor since 2010 with tackle Gabe Carimi.

Left Tackle Jack Nelson came to Wisconsin as a four-star recruit who started all 13 games this past year at right guard to help pave the way for the No. 2 rushing offense in the Big Ten (210.9 ypg) and the second-leading rusher in the conference (Braelon Allen - 105.7 ypg).

From what I’ve seen in training camp videos his form looks strong. According to his Twitter account, the form is maintained by a steady diet of Portillo’s and cheese curds. He’s a growing boy! And with three years of eligibility left Nelson is only expected to continue to grow in the right direction.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 06 Wisconsin at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Left Guard Tyler Beach has football in his blood. His father played football at the D1 level and his brother was a nose tackle at Colorado Mesa University. Beach is a previous starter for Wisconsin. He played every game as a starter for the Badgers.... but at left tackle. What may seem like a subtle change could be an opportunity to make a big difference in the trenches. Coming back for his senior year Beach expects to not only create space for Wisconsin’s running backs but also space for himself on an NFL roster.

On the right side of the line, competition has garnered a lot of attention at a couple of spots. Tanor Bortolini looked like he would be in competition for the right guard spot, but offensive line coach Bob Bostad decided to move him to center to give the position some depth. Bortolini then went down with an injury, and will likely miss some time, but thankfully the injury is not as serious as it originally appeared.

That should likely peg Michael Furtney in as the Badger's starter at right guard. Furtney has played in 31 career games for the Badgers and has made two starts at the right guard position. Furtney has been with Wisconsin since 2018, so he’s very experienced and should take on the starting role without issue. He’s also a bit of a genius, being named to the Academic All-Big Ten team for three straight seasons.

At right tackle, there has been competition between former 5-star Logan Brown and 4-star Riley Mahlman. We haven’t seen a confirmation of who will be the starter, but many practice reports seem to think that Mahlman has had the upper hand and should be the starter come next Saturday. Mahlman surpassing Brown would be a bit of a surprise to many after a highly touted high school career and him being the highest-rated recruit in school history.

Beyond the starters, Wisconsin’s depth is stacked higher than the pancakes at your local breakfast diner. Let’s begin with redshirt freshman, five-star recruit Nolan Rucci. A former HS All-American Bowl player, Rucci is hoping to become an All-American once he gets his shot, and he’ll likely lock down the backup left tackle spot this Fall.

JP Benzschawel is another highly touted redshirt freshman four-star with a heck of a resume to make a case as a worthy starter someday. Sophomore Trey Wedig is another four-star recruit in the mix of the two deep. Unlike Benzchawel, Wedig saw action in all of Wisconsin’s 12 games. The former number one recruit in the state has earned a letter but he’s also eager to earn more playing time this upcoming season and will be somewhere in the two deep.

Season Expectations

The line has a new leader in OL coach and somewhat Guru Bob Bostad. He’s not completely new to the role. Bostad has coached the positions before and produced 9 NFL Draft-worthy Lineman. Under his leadership, I think this group should get back to the ways of Wisconsin lines of old.

Jack Nelson and Joe Tippman are the pillars of this unit and All-Big Ten-type seasons are a very likely outcome for both of them should they stay healthy. Tyler Beach is plenty experienced and I think fits better at left guard, so that side of the line should be as good as any in the country.

The right side is a bit more unclear, but the talent is certainly there. Furtney is experienced and should hold down the guard spot just fine. If Mahlman is in fact the starter he will have earned his shot beating out a plethora of other talents in that room.

Bostad has said that the team has installed different styles and schemes to better fit the Wisconsin system. That’s mostly true as new Offensive Coordinator Bobby Engram tries to establish the aerial options for Wisconsin. Diversity of attack through the air could be the key to helping Wisconsin become a Big 10 Champion and College Football Playoff Contender. It all starts upfront making sure the quarterback can comfortably survey potential targets and clearing lanes for Badger backs to run through.