Fall Camp Preview: Offensive Line

With fall camp set to open in less than two weeks, Badger Nation breaks down each position for the 2011 season. Although three stalwarts from last year's line are in the NFL, Wisconsin returns five players that have started at least foul games, a credit to the strength and depth the Badgers have in the trenches.

MADISON - Only at the University of Wisconsin can a school lose multiple All-American offensive linemen and still have the position viewed as a strength for the upcoming season. That's what happens when not only the Badgers recruit three-star prospects and develop it into five-star talent, but have an eager sophomore with starting experience waiting in the wings.

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 (6-4, 330 pounds), 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 All-American John Moffitt at left guard.

"I think that's an oxymoron – forgotten lineman – because all linemen are forgotten most of the time," Frederick said. "Here, we do get a little more press than other places, but a little bit forgotten. I think last year was good for me to sit out and get a chance on the clipboard. The first year, I think a couple of people were paying attention, but that's not what's important to me. What's important to me is being on the field and doing what I can do."

The last season has been beneficial to Frederick, primarily around his waist after his weight dropped to 310 pounds at the end of his freshman season. Consuming anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 calories a day in protein shakes and good nutrients, Frederick spent a lot of time weight lifting, pushed his weight up to 340 pounds and feels faster, stronger and more agile when he's gotten extensive work with the backup units during developmental sessions.

It's been a positive change since the Badgers' entire left side of the line has been overhauled, although one wouldn't know it. It also is hard to realize that left tackle Ricky Wagner is a converted tight end and played at such a high level as a redshirt sophomore. When junior Josh Oglesby went down with his second knee injury and missed the season, Wagner (6-6, 320 pounds) filled in during the second week of the season and ended up starting 10 more games at the position.

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.

With the loss of Outland Trophy winner Game Carimi, Wagner will shift to the left tackle position, and Carimi proclaimed he is the school's next Outland Trophy winner. Playing as good as anybody on Wisconsin's offensive line, Wagner and Frederick will be an interesting, and fearsome, duo.

"Ricky really knows what he is doing and he's going to be a really good lineman on the left side," Frederick said. "He had to adjust a little bit going from the right to the left, but I think he is pretty much there and we're starting to get the communication down where we can feel each other next to each other so I know what calls he's going to make and what he's not going to make so I can adjust off of that. It's something that you have to practice with him and then get it going. For us, it's not really a rookie position, a position that we have to hone in on."

While the Badgers will have two players adjusting to new positions, the line will have the luxury of having junior center Peter Konz healthy and back in the lineup. A consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, Konz (6-5, 315 pounds) started at center in 11 games and during that stretch, never had a bad quarterback-center exchange and a reason NFL scouts have already started inquiring about him.

Why? Because not many centers in the countries are capable of doing what Konz can. Solid in pass protection and even better in run blocking sets, Konz has wowed NFL general managers with his ability to pull on runs and get out ahead in open space.

But while Konz has to wait another season before the NFL draft advisory board gives him his projected draft status, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema proclaimed at media day that the long arms of senior right guard Kevin Zeitler, his intense work ethic and the fact the senior from outside Milwaukee hasn't given up a sack in three years as a starter gave him a surprising grade.

Not only is Zeitler rated well ahead of Moffitt, he's rated on the same level as Carimi.

"He's a brick, body type, and is a really good student," senior defensive tackle Patrick Butrym said. "Every day I go against him and it's hard. He's really good. It's funny because he's improved so much. He used to be so worried about his pass blocking, and he's improved that so much in four years."

In his second season as a starter, Zeitler (6-4, 315 pounds), like Konz, was a consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten selection and will be the only senior on the offensive line this upcoming season. Zeitler was named to the preseason watch list for the 2011 Outland Trophy because he's durable – playing in 26 straight games with 22 starts – and he's just plain good.

"Nobody plays harder on our football team than Kevin Zeitler," said Bielema. "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."

The only question is: who will be the right tackle? Oglesby (6-7, 330 pounds) did not taking part in any live drills as he continues his rehabilitation from his ACL injury and has missed significant time the last two seasons, including the final six games last season. If healthy and able to perform well in pass-blocking situations, he should get the nod with his 15 games starting experience.

Oglesby's injury, however, created opportunities for the coaching staff to get a closer look at both Casey Dehn and Rob 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 (6-6, 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 345 pounds this fall. Havenstein worked with the first team throughout spring.

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.

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.

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