Spring Football Preview: Offensive Line

Starting on March 22, Wisconsin football starts its run to the 2012 Rose Bowl with five straight weeks of spring football. In preparation for the camp, Badger Nation breaks down the seven positions over the next seven days. Today, we examine the offensive line.

MADISON - Two All-Americans, one of which won last year's Outland Trophy, and a do-everything athlete are gone, yet the worry level among the program is virtually non-existent.

Such is life at the University of Wisconsin, which thrives on big, burly offensive linemen and always has plenty of quality depth waiting in the wings, most of which comes from inside the state.

"That's what us big guys come here for," junior center Peter Konz said, "to play football and eat good food."

With the hubbub centered on left tackle Gabe Carimi and senior left guard John Moffitt last season, the rest of Wisconsin's offensive line quietly went unnoticed, including Konz. A consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, Konz started at center in 11 games and during that stretch, never had a quarterback-center exchange with senior Scott Tolzien.

Maybe that's why Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson was so eager to find out more when he was in Madison evaluating the linemen.

"(Ted) comes down and says, ‘Bret, I know I got to talk to you about 68 and 74, which is Gabe and John, but he said who is 66?' Peter Konz our center," UW Coach Bielema said. He snapped the ball and blocked the right corner on the same play. That just doesn't happen a lot."

But if Konz projects as the best pro prospect, senior right guard Kevin Zeitler and junior Ricky Wagner aren't that far behind.

In his second season as a starter, Zeitler, like Konz, was a consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten selection and will be the only senior on the offensive line this upcoming season.

"Nobody plays harder on our football team than Kevin Zeitler," said Bielema, as Zeitler has started 22 games the past two seasons. "Kevin is a competitor and works very hard. I always joke he has more conversations with himself before noon than most people have all day. He's always talking to himself. It's just fun to watch him."

If Zeitler is the team's hardest worker, then Wagner might be the biggest developer. Once a 225-pound walk-on tight end, Wagner, another consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, is tipping the scales at 320 pounds and was key to Wisconsin's success when he stepped in and more than filled the void when Josh Oglesby missed most of the season with re-occurring knee problems.

With the loss of Carimi, Wagner will shift to the left tackle position, making this a valuable spring for him.

"As a sophomore who has played as little football as he has at that position is absolutely amazing," Bielema said of Wagner. "If you didn't know who is who in our group, you would probably say Ricky Wagner is playing as good as anybody on our line."

Although the Badgers return only three starters from last season, Wisconsin will have a fourth starter in the fold with redshirt sophomore Travis Frederick. Stuck behind incumbent starters Konz, Moffitt and Zeitler, Frederick, who started four games in '09, and the UW coaching staff went with the redshirt, allowing him to get stronger in the weight room and study the game so the coaching staff could fully utilize his talent for his remaining three years of eligibility.

The plan worked, and Frederick is in line to take over for Moffitt at left guard. Frederick has increased his size to 340 pounds and says he feels faster, stronger and more agile when he's gotten extensive work with the backup units during developmental sessions.

"He's been fun to watch, watching his body change for the better and really change his composition," Offensive Line Coach Bob Bostad said. "I am thrilled it was able to happen because the University of Wisconsin is going to be the benefactor. He's going to be a great player for three more years."

With Oglesby not taking part in any live drills as he continues his rehabilitation from his ACL injury, the Badgers will get an opportunity to look at tackles Casey Dehn and Robby Havenstein. Dehn, a redshirt sophomore, has filled in for both tackle positions and started one game at right tackle last season. Bostad said Dehn's size (6-foot-6, 317 pounds) and strong lower body (he throws the shot put for UW track) makes him a strong candidate for playing time.

Havenstein came to campus at 380 pounds, but weighed in at 350 pounds in the fall.

"I dropped 30 pounds after lifting every day (and) I feel great," Havenstein said. "I have been lifting more than I have been in a long time, and I feel faster and stronger."

Behind Frederick at left guard, Wisconsin will also give redshirt sophomore Ryan Groy a chance to develop. Groy played all 13 games a season ago, but Bielema utilized him as a fullback, saying it didn't make sense to leave talent standing next to him on the sidelines.

"He's just real natural," Bielema said after he debuted Groy at the position in the UNLV game. "One day he came up to me and said, ‘Coach, I can do this, but if you let me take my knee braced off I'll be really good.' I let him take his braces off and he thinks he's a fullback now."

Bostad and company will also be watching to see if redshirt sophomore Zac Matthias (whose hand will be wrapped in a club due to offseason surgery), redshirt freshman Dallas Lewallen (UW Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year) or senior Jake Current can fight their way into the rotation, especially with the right tackle position open for repetitions this spring.

Badger Nation Top Stories