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August 2, 2011

Fall outlook: Offensive line

MADISON - Peter Konz might be the best center in the Big Ten. If not, he's definitely in the top three. Kevin Zeitler might be one of the best right guards in the Big Ten.

Ricky Wagner has all the tools necessary to become great at the left tackle position, and potentially with time, progress to the point where he can contend for UW's third Outland Trophy at the position in the past five years.

Travis Frederick might be the strongest player on the entire team at left guard, and one that started as a true freshman before an injury sidelined him for much of the rest of the 2009 season.

In short, four-fifths of UW's 2011 offensive line is set, and incredibly talented. They're road graders. They're bulldogs. They're feisty, nasty and motivated behemoths that weigh in at 6-foot-6, 310-plus pounds across the board.

"It's a little bit younger," Frederick said back in spring camp of the offensive line. "But all of our guys have experience. You look across the line, minus the three freshmen that redshirted last year, everybody has played in a game. Everybody knows what to expect and everybody is doing it. We take so many reps out here in practice.

"I think people are going to see that there is more experience than there are young guys."

The offensive line is as good as it is because they simply work at it non-stop during practice. When the rest of the team is enjoying a water break, no matter how hot, cold or in between it is weather-wise, the big men up front are continually working.

Call it the Bob Bostad way. His die-hard attitude, his work harder than the rest philosophy and his desire to shape the best product he can has churned out some of the best offensive line units the Wisconsin offense has ever seen.

It's truly remarkable.

"We don't have a lot of big mouth guys or a lot of guys that are stepping up and being these big vocal leaders," Frederick said last spring. "There are a lot of guys that are just going out there and working. I think that's how the coaches have recruited. I think our group is a group of workers.

"We're going to go out there and work and hopefully outwork the competition."

The burning question

Who will emerge at right tackle

Though he had just suffered a torn ACL early on in the 2010 season, senior Josh Oglesby was able to participate in spring drills. While he was extremely limited and didn't really work in any full contact drills, it was impressive nonetheless.

Now, with the summer months behind us, it seems as though one of the more crucial positional battles this fall camp will take place at right tackle.

Oglesby will play a part in that, as will Casey Dehn and Rob Havenstein. It will be interesting to see how both Dehn and Havenstein build off what turned out to be a very successful spring camp, and a pretty intriguing positional battle at that. Will they continue to progress or will the pressures and rigors of fall camp be too much for the young guys to handle?

Will Oglesby be healthy enough to push them or will his knee injury linger throughout August and into the season? Head coach Bret Bielema, though he said Oglesby would be limited, has high hopes for his senior tackle.

"Josh wants to please everybody," Bielema said. "He's a gentle giant, but I think he needs to play with a little more anger. It's not a bad thing. It's just something that's come up. He's been big for so long. When you're two feet taller than everybody in fourth grade and you push another kid everyone yells at you for being a bully. He never really learned how to be tough.

"I just think the mental attitude and the approach he's had have really been positive and I think it's going to be a great season for him."

Four of the five spots are set up front. It's figuring out who will fill the fifth position that will determine how good this line really can be.

We won't fully have an answer to that until much later in camp.

On the rise

Havenstein and Dehn

Each of those two players, the 6-foot-8, 345-pound Havenstein and the 6-foot-6, 335-pound Dehn, had impressive camps and really seemed to have taken the strides a lot of young players take under Bostad's instruction.

They're clearly powerful players, they're two of the biggest guys on the roster and they're going to have successful Badger careers by the time it's all said and done. If Oglesby's injury flares up at all during camp or at any point during the season, it's going to be on one of those two players to pick up the slack.

At this point, it's more about consistency than it is anything else. Having solid footwork and blocking schemes on a play-in, play-out basis is the next step for each of those guys to start reaching their lofty potential.

The most interesting man

Ryan Groy

Simply put, where do you play him? Do you play him at fullback, a position that gave him some reps a season ago? Do you play him at center if Peter Konz has more issues with his ankle? Do you try him at tackle?

It's the biggest sequence of questions that need answering without any set answers. It's clear the coaching staff wants to play him, but it's just as clear that they don't know how to necessarily do it.

Key competition

Right tackle is really the focal point. Every other position should be set.

Noteworthy

Wisconsin has had at least one First-Team All-Big Ten player on the offensive line in four of the past five seasons.

Quote worthy

Bret Bielema on Russell Wilson's excitement to play behind UW's offensive line

"He had made the comment to me, he was really looking forward to playing behind an offensive line of our stature. I think that was kind of the moment where he realized this is a different game, here with the guys we had walking in the room."






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