Spring Thoughts: Offensive Line

Our series of spring analysis continues with a look at the offensive line.

The left tackle position was the biggest concern entering spring football, and despite the stellar play of Morgan Davis, it remains the biggest concern heading into the fall. Whether blame should be assessed to the offensive line, receivers, quarterbacks or tailbacks, the bottom line is that Wisconsin surrendered 46 sacks last season, which was one of the main factors in the Badgers' 2-6 Big Ten record.

To improve on that statistic, Wisconsin needs solid play from the left tackle position, and the Badger coaching staff feels more comfortable with Morgan Davis at this point than it did five weeks ago. Davis was more consistent than Jake Wood early in spring practice, and after splitting reps in early March, Davis took control of the spot for the remainder of the spring.

Dan Buenning struggled last season, missing assignments and being penalized far more often than expected, but a lot of that had to do with how the season started for the 6-4, 303-pound junior. Buenning battled mono last summer and for missed the majority of fall camp. He never looked like himself until midway through the season, and even then, he was playing catchup and didn't play up to his potential. This spring, Buenning looked more like the player the Badgers feel he should be.

Donovan Raiola had a tremendous spring, filling the huge shoes of Al Johnson at the center position. Raiola had limited experience from last season, but looked like a veteran throughout much of the spring. He is an extremely physical player, and he gives Offensive Line Coach Jim Hueber a consistent, hard-working center that has obviously put a lot of time and effort into learning the offense and his position.

Jason Palermo also had a very strong spring practice, often coming out on the winning side of battles in one-on-one drills with defensive linemen. It will be hard to keep Palermo off the field if he continues to progress at this pace. As it stands, Palermo gives Hueber a solid backup at the center position (and perhaps guard).

Jonathan Clinkscale never allowed Kalvin Barrett to get back into the starting equation this spring, as he started strong in the spring and never looked back. Clinkscale appears to be quicker than Barrett and he was a weapon on trap blocks and other plays that required the guard to pull. But Barrett improved as the spring wore on, and when filling in for Clinkscale with the No. 1 offense, there was no noticeable dropoff at that position.

Barrett's role as the No. 2 guard (both right and left) could be threatened by Jeff Lang, a converted defensive end who has gained a tremendous amount of size and weight over the last couple of years. Lang really came on about midway through spring football, showcasing his physical ability during inside running drills and scrimmage situations. But at the end of spring football, Barrett looked in control of his backup guard spot.

As expected, Mike Lorenz held onto the starting right tackle position throughout the spring. Because Lorenz saw action last season as an extra tight end, he had a step up on other first-year starters because of his game experience as a freshman. Randy Gyllin looked pretty raw after his greyshirt season, and never seriously threatened Lorenz. Fred Nieforth, a 6-8, 305-pound senior, could be the backup at this position.

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