Fall Camp Preview: Offensive Line

With another Outland Trophy candidate occupying the left tackle position, experience at left guard and center and unproven talent at right guard and right tackle, Wisconsin's offensive line looks like another strong, dominating unit in 2012.

This is the fourth in a series of eight previews leading up to the Wisconsin football team's Aug. 6 start of practice.

July 30: Quarterbacks

July 31: Running backs

Aug 1: Receivers

Aug 2: Offensive linemen

Aug. 3: Defensive linemen

Aug. 4: Linebackers

Aug. 5: Defensive backs

Aug. 6: Specialists

Projected starters: left tackle Ricky Wagner (redshirt senior), left guard Ryan Groy (redshirt junior), center Travis Frederick (redshirt junior), right guard Robby Burge (redshirt senior), right tackle Rob Havenstein (redshirt sophomore)

Key backups: Kyle Costigan (redshirt sophomore), Dallas Lewallen (redshirt sophomore), Dan Voltz (freshman)

The breakdown:

Only at a school like Wisconsin could an offensive line lose three starters to the NFL and still return three players with more than a couple spot starts under its belt.

And with the talent that Wagner, Groy and Frederick possess, the men in the trenches will again draw considerable praise from NFL scouts and onlookers.

"The great thing at the University of Wisconsin is we've been able to play offensive line at the highest level possible in the world of college football," said coach Bret Bielema.

Putting five offensive linemen into the NFL over the last two years, including four in the first three rounds, it seems entirely possible that Wagner, from West Allis, Wis., could join that group, as he projected top-10 pick in the 2013 NFL draft by some draft gurus. A candidate for the Outland Trophy, given annually to college football's best interior lineman, Wagner has played in 38 games in his career with 24 starts.

He's following in the lines of the 2010 Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi, who once said that Wagner has a chance to be better than he ever was in college. That's pretty impressive praise for a guy that came to Wisconsin as a 6-5, 230-pound walk-on tight end and now is a 6-6, 330-pound animal.

"I told him when I moved him a year ago that he has big shoes to fill," said Bielema. "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."

If Wagner is the line's number one draft prospect, there's little debate who is number two. The first true freshman to ever start a season opener on the offensive line in school history, Frederick has bounced between left guard and center during the 2009 and 2011 season will take over the center position from NFL second-round pick Peter Konz.

"Travis is a perfectionist," said Wagner. "He has great technique and really respects the technique of the offensive line position."

Appearing in 18 games with 17 starts (four at center), the 328-pound Frederick is considered by many to be the smartest lineman on the team, and has been a big mentor to roommate Groy. Like Frederick, Groy's versatility has allowed him to bounce around at different positions over the last two seasons, getting starts at left guard, center and even fullback.

Despite just four starts in his 27-game career, Groy was a testament to Wisconsin's offensive-line depth when he started at center against Illinois and left guard against Penn State and Michigan State after Konz went down with an ankle injury.

"It was nice playing those games last year at left guard and game plan for that position," said Groy in the spring. "It's not that bad going from guard to center, but it's hard getting your body use to playing both positions because of the different technique. It was nice to get comfortable at one position."

While Wisconsin is comfortable with the left side of its offensive line, much of the fall camp position battles will be on the right side of the line with a new cast of characters looking for snaps. While some may be nervous, Bielema said it likely is the same kind of nerves people had when Kevin Zeitler started as a sophomore or Carimi took over for Joe Thomas.

"We have guys in our program right now who have never started a game who I believe can play at that level," said Bielema. "We have an opportunity now to put people in place."

After recovering from a shoulder surgery that took him out of spring practices, Havenstein will get the opportunity to start at right tackle. Having played in 13 games with one start last season, the 6-8, 343-pound behemoth has reshaped his body since stepping foot on campus in 2010, and getting that experience last year as a redshirt freshman will be huge for his development and confidence.

The right guard position is a little murkier. After Robby Burge and Casey Dehn shared snaps at the positing in the spring and figured to challenge one another for the starting role, the Badgers announced that Dehn was no longer on the team. Burge is unfortunately known for a couple special teams' blunders last season, but the walk-on has trimmed his body to be more athletic and agile.

"He's a guy who was at about 325, 330 pounds. He looks like he weighs 285 now, but he weighs the exact same, he's just changed his body," said Bielema. "He could be one of those seniors that has that special senior year that you're looking for."

Other guys to keep a watch on is Lewallen (who is almost 100 percent after dislocating his knee cap last season), Costigan (who players say is the strongest player on the team pound for pound) and Tyler Marz (who was the offensive scout team player of the year last season after working at guard and tackle).

But the one player everybody has been talking about is Voltz, the former four-star offensive lineman who picked the Badgers over two dozen scholarships early in his recruiting cycle and enrolled in January for spring practices. Working at guard and center, Voltz could figure into the rotation right from the start.

"I was really impressed with how mature he is already," Wagner said of Voltz. "Coming into college right from high school is pretty hard, but he took all the coaching real good. I think he is one of the most coachable players on the team. His attitude toward everything is great. He has a chance to play right off the bat."

After having worked out the bumps during the transition from long time offensive line coach Bob Bostad to first year coach Mike Markuson, Bielema and Markuson are hopeful to get their starting lineup squared away by mid August.

While Wagner says the team doesn't pay attention to outside pressure or expectations, the whole unit can agree on one goal: try to get Montee Ball the Heisman Trophy.

"It'll be a nice honor if we have something to do with his success," said Wagner. "I think it's more of a team award, but Montee is a phenomenal player. It's nice to see an award like that to represent how good of a team we are."

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