March 9, 2010

Spring outlook: Offensive line

MADISON - As far as offensive lines go, Wisconsin's has a chance to be recognized as one of the best not only in the Big Ten, but also the nation as spring turns to summer and summer eventually turns to fall.

With all five bowl game starters returning, as well as a few key reserves that missed the game such as Peter Konz, the Badger offensive line enters spring camp full of experience and loaded with depth.

The other thing that really makes this Badger offensive line dynamic is its versatility.

John Moffitt has experience and can play both center and left guard. Kevin Zeitler can play virtually anywhere and Travis Frederick and Peter Konz have multiple skill sets that allow them to play virtually anywhere on the line.

Then, of course, you have one of the better left tackles in the league with Gabe Carimi and a junior right tackle in Josh Oglesby poised to build upon a season of consistent playing time a year ago.

When analyzing the line in a more particular manner, the discussion has to start with the two senior projected starters in Moffitt and Carimi.

For Moffitt, after missing UW's fist three games of the season with a strained pectoral muscle, playing at a high enough level to garner First-Team All Conference over the final eight games of the season was impressive work.

Especially considering the move from center to left guard was made.

"A lot of my expectations after I moved to left guard was just to be a good left guard," Moffitt said late last season. "Try to get into that position and feel comfortable at it. I've been saying this and I've tried every week to work on new things.

"I work on my pull game, work on my pass blocking and my run blocking."

As a result, Moffitt anchored a line that paved the way for John Clay to rush for more than 1,500 yards as a sophomore.

Another major reason for that running back success is the superior run and pass blocking from Carimi. As one of the premier left tackles in all of college football entering spring camp, Carimi has a chance to not only pave the way for the UW offense, but also kick start his march to a potentially high draft pick following his senior year.

The talent is there for the senior to impress on that high a level.

With those two seniors serving as leaders on the line, the younger players that fill in the rest of the spots will have plenty of guidance and leadership to look up to.

For most of the following guys, a nice chunk of playing time and experience from last season will do nothing but bolster confidence.

As a true freshman, Travis Frederick started the season opener. However, it was during the first quarter of the second game that Frederick suffered an ankle injury that kept him out of the starting lineup for the remainder of the season.

While he made solid strides during fall camp and showed his ability in just over a game of action, Frederick took a back seat as Konz passed him at the center position.

From the time Konz took over for the ailing Frederick, the redshirt freshman never looked back. He impressed the Badger coaches with his strength in run blocking and was sure enough in pass protection to keep him on the field.

As a player that played virtually every position on the offensive line during his first year in the program, Konz said the transition to center was a bit difficult, if not strenuous.

"Going from tackle and coming in thinking I was going to compete for the right tackle spot and center was like, 'Oh my God, I've got some late nights here," Konz said early last season. "But it wasn't too bad because I had done guard before I did tackles. So I knew it was not too much different because we do so many double teams and I knew pretty much where I was going."

At right guard, Zeitler took over for an injured Bill Nagy early in the season and never thought twice about it. After Nagy, a constant in the starting lineup two seasons ago, suffered a terrifying moped accident a couple weeks before fall camp that kept him out for most of the season, the right guard position was Zeitler's to lose.

He didn't.

Instead he started every game for the Badgers and proved he can handle the rigors of playing the offensive line throughout the Big Ten slate.

Finally, at right tackle, Josh Oglesby looks to build upon his first season as the starting right tackle. In that season, the Badger sophomore showed some progress at times, but also showed some inconsistency, particularly in pass protection.

When spring camp starts later this week, it will be interesting to see if Oglesby has developed that agitated demeanor needed to become a fierce opponent on the offensive line for the opposition.

"It definitely takes time," Oglesby said early last season. "Especially when you come from being able to just maul everyone to having to use technique. Everyone is good here, so it really is a big adjustment."

The backups:

With the starting five most likely to include Carimi and Oglesby at the tackle position, Moffitt and Zeitler at the guard spot and Frederick or Konz at center, there will be plenty of opportunity for younger players to showcase their skills and vie for playing time during spring camp.

Players such as Jake Current, Ryan Groy, Ricky Wagner, Bill Nagy and Casey Dehn could all make a strong push during spring and fall camp.

If nothing else, the competition will do nothing but make the starting five that much better.

One of the more intriguing prospects is Wagner, a kid who added a bevy of weight in order to play offensive line. As a redshirt freshman, Wagner weighed in at 313 pounds. With his 6-foot-6 frame, Wagner obviously possesses great size to play at left tackle behind Carimi, whether he continues to develop, particularly with his footwork, will determine if and when he gets and playing time.

Otherwise, junior Jake Current, senior Bill Nagy, freshman Ryan Groy and freshman Casey Dehn, provide a great amount of depth at a position that should be one of the strongest units on the entire team come next fall.

As was proven last season when Carimi suffered an injury, when Oglesby missed time and obviously when Frederick, Konz and Moffitt were sidelined, this line has a great amount of depth. And spring camp is the perfect time to take it even a step further.

"It's probably a time to get better at being football players," UW head coach Bret Bielema told in a recent interview. "Peter Konz won't go through spring ball so now that number is a little smaller. When you talked about newcomers, Ryan Groy is a guy that has looked exceptional during winter conditioning and what he's done with his body. So to see how he emerges and comes forward, it will be entertaining.

"And also Josh Oglesby has really been concentrating on trying to take another step at his game."

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