Badger blockers have big shoes to fill
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON--The departure to the National Football League of center Travis Frederick and left tackle Rick Wagner signaled the end of a remarkable run for University of Wisconsin offensive linemen.
Frederick, taken in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys, and Wagner, taken in the fifth round by the Baltimore Ravens, were the last of the UW linemen who were full-time starters at some point from 2009 to 2011.
They were also the sixth and seventh players drafted from those units.
Fifth-year senior Ryan Groy, who started three games at left guard and one at center in 2011 before becoming a full-time starter last season, is the only remaining link to those teams.
Will the 2013 season, Gary Andersen’s first as UW’s head coach, bring a drop-off for the offensive line?
UW has a new line coach (T.J. Woods), could have new starters at left guard and center and faces depth issues because of low overall numbers. UW had only 13 linemen in the spring (10 on scholarship and three walk-ons) and should enter camp Aug. 5 with 18 linemen (12 on scholarship and six walk-ons).
Woods, who coached Utah State’s offensive linemen in 2011 and ’12 under Andersen, understands the numbers must grow.
“The best is 17 to 18 guys on scholarship in my opinion because at our position injuries happen,” Woods said. “It is the nature of the beast, especially in this conference.
“When you play the style of football that we play and bang the way we bang, that is going to happen.”
The likely starters/No. 1 line entering camp: Groy at left tackle, redshirt junior Dallas Lewallen at left guard, redshirt freshman Dan Voltz at center, redshirt junior Kyle Costigan at right guard and redshirt junior Rob Havenstein at right tackle.
“We’re going to play the best five guys,” Woods said. “If that is five guards, that’s what we’re going to play with. If that is five tackles, that’s what we’re going to play with.
“We’re going to play the best people. The toughest five guys we’ve got are going to go out there and play Wisconsin football.”
Groy opened the spring at left guard but finished as the No. 1 left tackle. He started all 14 games last season, including two at left tackle after Wagner suffered a knee injury.
Voltz, who enrolled at UW in January 2012, served as the Badgers’ No. 2 center last season and could have played in an emergency.
Lewallen has been hampered by knee problems for the last two years but made it through spring ball unscathed. He worked at left tackle, center and left guard but finally found a home at left guard between Groy and Voltz.
“Any spot I can be starting at on the offensive line would be the best case for me,” Lewallen said. “It is just one of those things where you work at a position and you get used to it.”
Costigan was held out of spring ball to recover from offseason knee surgery. He started nine games last season, played through a painful knee injury in the Big Ten opener at Nebraska and at times was UW’s best lineman.
“But it will be a little bit of a feel-out process for him when he comes back for camp,” Woods said.
Havenstein started all 14 games at right tackle last season after backing up Josh Oglesby in 2011. He should be a better player because of that starting experience.
A lack of experienced depth could be problematic, particularly if injuries hit.
Eight of the linemen are freshmen or redshirt freshmen and have yet to play.
The only backups who have significant playing time are redshirt senior Zac Matthias and redshirt sophomore Tyler Marz.
Matthias started four games at right guard last season but eventually lost the job to Costigan, who is a more tenacious and consistent performer.
Marz found a niche in the “Barge” package developed by former offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Marz could open the season as the No. 2 right tackle behind Havenstein.
“At Wisconsin you’re always going to have a heck of an offensive line,” said Curt Phillips, who closed the spring as the No. 1 quarterback. “Obviously we’ve got some big shoes to fill with guys leaving, but I think we’ve seen some big growth from the guys in those positions.”