Analyzing the Right Guard Spot

In one of the many position battles facing Wisconsin's offense in this year's fall camp, fifth-year senior Robby Burge and redshirt sophomore Kyle Costigan have battled for the starting spot throughout the first two weeks.

MADISON - With fall camp being only a couple days old, first year offensive line coach Mike Markuson had the goal in mind of setting his starting five linemen at least two weeks before the season opener September 1 against Northern Iowa. A week later, it's evident that he was almost there.

With the media being allowed into Wisconsin's fall camp since Monday, Markuson, despite some sporadic rotating, appears set with senior Ricky Wagner at left tackle, junior Ryan Groy at left guard, junior Travis Frederick at center and sophomore Rob Havenstein at right tackle, as those four players have taken the majority of reps with the first-team offense.

The only position in flux is right guard between fifth-year senior Robby Burge and redshirt sophomore Kyle Costigan, both of whom have had different journeys throughout their Wisconsin career and each want to take Kevin Zeitler's spot on the line.

"Robby Burge had a good spring and I was impressed with him and Kyle Costigan is a guy we moved around and he's just improved tenfold," said Markuson.

Although neither player has started a game at right guard (or hardly played at the position) during their careers, both have shown Markuson why Wisconsin is known as a breeding ground for offensive linemen. Badger Nation looks at the two players.

Robby Burge (6-7, 323 pounds)

After the Rose Bowl, Burge walked into head coach Bret Bielema's office and said that he wanted to quit the team instead of playing for his fifth and final year. As Bielema recalled, the decision was more of an academic one, but also for the reason that Burge didn't know if it was worth it to play anymore.

It's understandable how Burge could come to that conclusion. A walk-on from Holmen, Wis., Burge played in 29 games in three seasons, mostly on special teams, but was always behind All-Americans and took a lot of flak for missing two key blocks on punt protection against Michigan State and Ohio State in back-to-back weeks. Burge's missteps resulted in two blocked punts that led to touchdowns, contributed to two heartbreaking losses and him losing his job.

"That would shake me up to," said Markuson, referring to Burge's two unfortunate mishaps. "Guys are counting on you and you feel bad as a player. The whole world is on top of them as a player. They need some support from somebody, and those are your coaches and your teammates."

Bielema recognized that the Badgers would be thin at right guard heading into the spring and convinced Burge to stick it out, assuring him he would get a lot of repetitions at the spot and have a shot to win the role.

"I knew I would have an opportunity, but I didn't know who was going to start right away," said Burge "That turned out to be me in the spring and me in the fall so far."

After getting the motivational boost of playing a lot of reps in the spring, Burge approached summer conditioning as a chance to slim down his frame in order to get more athletic and mobile. He also changed his diet, replacing the pizzas and sodas with fruits and vegetables.

"I got a lot stronger as a result of eating better," said Burge. "I stayed the same weight, but everybody says I have slimmed down."

He's also improved as a result of Markuson. One of the first coaches to sit down and convince Burge to give football another shot, Markuson gave Burge a new set of ways to approach the game and the position – working on playing stronger with a lower pad level. That in turn has made Burge a better football player and worthy of being presented a scholarship by Bielema on Tuesday night.

"Those guys really blossom late where fifth-year guys have their best years," said Markuson, who has also been working Burge at right tackle in case of an emergency. "They've been around the program a long time, they understand the expectations, they work hard and that's Rob. He's done that. He wants to please. He wants to play. That guy has been awesome. He really has."

Not many people would bounce back from two mental gaffs the way Burge has, another reason he is so thankful for his offensive line teammates; likely the real reason he came back this season.

"If I didn't like these guys so much, I probably wouldn't be here," said Burge. "It's a good group of guys on the line. They fit my personality well. I love to compete, too, even if I am on the second string. Just going against whomever I can the best, I know I am showing the best I can do.

"I couldn't let (the special teams' mistakes) dwell on me. I had to let it go, I guess, and basically move forward with whatever I was doing next. That was moving to the o-line and playing guard."

Kyle Costigan (6-4, 313 pounds)

After getting a late scholarship offer from Wisconsin because of the politicking done by then offensive line coach Bob Bostad, Costigan was heading into UW's summer conditioning program thinking he was going to be working under Bostad's tutelage. Imagine his surprise when he was told differently.

Costigan was a second-team all-state selection at Muskego High and was pound for pound one of UW's strongest freshmen in the 2010 class, but the Badgers were thin at the defensive tackle position and felt he would be a natural fit in stopping opponent's running games.

He switched to defense halfway through his redshirt season and was even named scout team player of the week against Michigan. He fought his way into the rotation last season and made three tackles in three games before suffering a season-ending foot injury.

Costigan was preparing for a jump in production this season on defense before Bielema called him to his office after the season and asked if he would like to switch back to offense, considering UW was thin at the guard position entering the spring.

"On defense you are always reacting while on offense you have a set plan on what you are going to do," said Costigan. "I like that aspect more, so I was willing to help the team for a chance to play."

Throughout the second week of camp, Costigan had been playing second string behind Burge, but took all the reps with the first-team offense on Friday while Burge worked with the second team at right tackle.

"High-motor guy, high-energy guy, very strong and wants to play," Markuson said when asked to describe Costigan. "Kyle knew we needed help on the o-line and he embraced that. That's good for us."

Although incredibly stronger and physical, Costigan wasn't properly trained with the line's proper techniques throughout high school. As a senior, Costigan was simply taught to block opposing defenders with his arm raised horizontally in a defensive position, far from a successful formula in college.

"That doesn't work at this level," said Cositgan with a laugh. "You could be the strongest guy in the world but if your fundamentals are terrible, you are going to get blown up every time."

Costigan is also still refining his pass blocking, as he use to simply attack oncoming blockers instead of waiting for linemen to come to him. It's been a slower process for Costigan since he missed the first half of spring practices recovering from his foot injury.

Although he has missed time, he hasn't lost that tenacity he played defensive tackle with. Showing good ability when he pulls to block a linebacker, Costigan has proven to be a strong run blocker and keeping a strong base when he engages with defenders, things that will push Burge to stay on the top of his game as the battle for the starting spot.

"I feel everything has improved drastically since the spring," said Costigan. "I feel like every play that I have to show something to the coaches, that I am all in and I am trying my hardest. I am not focused on how Burge is doing per se, but we're obviously pushing each other to get better. I am just trying to do the best I can and improve what I have to improve. Hopefully that will take care of itself."

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