Loud Mouse

After his two predecessors left school as the Outland Trophy winner, reserved senior left tackle Ricky Wagner is hoping to make a big statement with his game in 2012.

CHICAGO - When Ricky Wagner first stepped foot on campus as a 6-5, 230-pound walk-on from West Allis, Wis., his mindset was to find a way to crack the two-deep depth chart.

As he answered questions at his own table at Big Ten Media Days with his personalized nametag wearing his freshly pressed suit and tie, Wagner, now transformed into a 6-6, 330-pound three-year starter honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, admitted that his mindset hasn't changed as much as his body.

"I still feel I am the same guy that came here (in 2008)," said Wagner. "I just am a little bigger."

He's bigger all right, and so are the expectations surrounding him. That's what happens when you play left tackle at Wisconsin.

"I told him when I moved him a year ago that he has big shoes to fill," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "Every senior left tackle that has started for me in my tenure at the University of Wisconsin has won the Outland Trophy and has been a first round draft pick. He's hopefully going to live up to the same standards."

Of the four person contingent that addressed the media Thursday and Friday at the Hyatt Regency at McCormick Place, Wagner seemed like the odd man out. Unlike tailback Montee Ball, Bielema and even linebacker Mike Taylor to a degree, Wagner, who started all 14 games at left tackle last season, seldom gets a lot of media requests because of his soft spoken nature. The thing is he doesn't actually care.

"I am an o-lineman," said Wagner. "It's not my job."

But as one of only seven fifth-year scholarship seniors on the roster, Wagner has started to feel more comfortable in his role as time has crept by.

Part of it comes from being around the media since he stepped on to the scene during the 2010 season, starting 10 games in the place of injured right tackle Josh Oglesby. The other part of it comes from having some pretty powerful mentors.

Wagner cites the playbook knowledge and film room details put in by former center Peter Konz, who was drafted in the spring in the second round by the Atlanta Falcons following his junior year. He also credits a lot of his success to previous left tackles Gabe Carimi and Joe Thomas, the former of which he studied under for three seasons.

"It was great playing from him," Wagner said of Carimi. "We have great resources up in the film room that I can go watch him."

Wagner also watches Thomas, the third overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, and spent time with him last summer during the NFL lockout.

"(Joe) took every day like he was just going to work, and that's a big part of being an o-linemen," said Wagner. "Just going to work, doing your job."

That mindset helped Wagner through a spring that wasn't the easiest transition for him and his teammates. After hearing the same voice throughout his tenure, Wagner had to adjust to the new styles, techniques and teachings of offensive line coach Mike Markuson, a situation that was rough from both sides of the equation.

"With any change, it's always going to be rough in the beginning, but that's what spring was for: getting used to him," said Wagner. "I think that transition period is over. He's been here since February, and I am fine with him.

"I just have to get practicing, that's the big deal," he added. "I have to make sure I don't forget about practice because that's all we have on the o-line: that preparation during the week. That's got to be my top priority during the week."

Wagner is also fine with the setup of his group, even though there are gaping holes on the right side of the line with the departure of Casey Dehn following spring and offseason surgeries preventing Rob Havenstein and Dallas Lewallen to get meaningful reps.

"This competition is really going to show what we are made of," said Wagner.

Not only did Wagner say both of those guys are far enough along to contribute in 2012, he pointed to converted defensive tackle Kyle Costigan, who also drew rave reviews from Bielema for a player that has been large strides since the spring.

"I've been really impressed with how he's handled the transition," said Wagner. "He really wants to get on the field. It doesn't matter if he's defensive line or offensive line, and I really respect that."

It also helps having a Heisman finalist return to the backfield to make a group appear dominant.

"It makes a look a lot better than I think we are on the line sometimes," said Wagner. "We don't have to be perfect with him. It's an honor playing for a back like that."

With the Penn State issue the hot topic of conversation, Bielema responded to one reporter's question that it is possible to compete at the Division 1 level using only 65 scholarships if a school has a strong walk-on program. When the reporter asked for some examples of walk-on success stories Bielema's had, the seventh year head coach simply turned and pointed to Wagner's table.

For a man who says very little, it's hard to put into words the amount of things he has already accomplished.

"Talk to me when I am done," said Wagner with a smile. "Some of these things might have settled in by then. I'm very proud that coach Bielema trusted me with a scholarship after my third year. I really thank him for that."

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