Fall Camp Preview: Offensive Line

The fifth of our nine-part series, Badger Nation breaks down each position in the first Wisconsin fall camp of the Gary Andersen era. Today, we examine the offensive line, a group that has a strong starting five but question marks behind it.

This is the fifth in a series of nine previews leading up to the Wisconsin football team's Aug. 5 start of practice.

July 28: Quarterbacks

July 29: Running backs

July 30: Receivers

July 31: Tight ends

Today: Offensive linemen

Aug. 2: Defensive linemen

Aug. 3: Linebackers

Aug. 4: Defensive backs

Aug. 5: Specialists

Projected starters: Left tackle Ryan Groy (redshirt senior), left guard Dallas Lewallen (redshirt junior), center Dan Voltz (redshirt freshman), right guard Kyle Costigan (redshirt junior), right tackle Rob Havenstein (redshirt junior)

Key backups: Zac Matthias (redshirt senior), Tyler Marz (redshirt sophomore), Ray Ball (redshirt sophomore), Chris Gill (senior)

Departed Players: Left tackle Ricky Wagner, center Travis Frederick, offensive guard Jake Meador

The breakdown:

All we heard throughout the spring was how low Wisconsin's numbers were on the offensive line entering the 2013 season. And whoever was saying those comments was absolutely right.

Wisconsin enters fall with only nine scholarship linemen that have been in the program at least one season, hardly a comfortable number for a program that is known as ‘Offensive Line U' in many conversations. With the staff wanting to be around 16 scholarship linemen, it's one of the main reasons Andersen and his staff have made the guys in the trenches a top priority for the 2014 recruiting cycle and beyond.

But while the numbers are low and the experience is lacking, Andersen saw a group in the spring that improved enough with pad level, hand placement, communication and the intangibles to be a quality offensive line this season.

"Our offensive line is going to be built off good players (and) a tough-minded group that has a huge care factor," Andersen said. "They've gone against a defense that has a lot of looks. That relationship between Coach Woods and the offensive lineman has grown, developed, good trust factor, good care factor and they play every single day. I am very proud of those kids because our numbers were so low.

"Those kids have grinded through it every single day. They are tough-minded group, their care factor is high and they have high expectations of themselves."

The starting offensive line for the August 31 opener against Massachusetts likely will include only one senior, a redshirt freshman and not a lot of flashy names. That's OK by Wisconsin's standards, as the Badgers' most powerful unit prefers to fly under the radar.

The only recognizable name outside Badger Nation is Groy, one of the most versatile linemen to play at Wisconsin in the last decade. Having started at fullback, center, left guard and left tackle throughout his career, Groy – a second-team All-Big Ten selection last season – will begin this season at left tackle.

Seven linemen have been drafted into the NFL the last three years, including three in the first round and one in the second, four have been named All-Americans and seven have been first-team All-Big Ten selections. Many are expecting Groy to add his name to at least a couple of those lists, which is why he is the unquestioned leader of UW's line.

"I think last year I was a lead-by-example guy," said Groy. "I wasn't a vocal leader for the offensive line because we had Travis (Frederick) and Ricky (Wagner). I kind of sat back and minded my own business. I love the idea of growing up and being a Badgers fan. Looking at the seniors and the captains who led the way for a successful team, I always wanted to be that guy. To be one of the senior leaders for me is awesome, and hopefully we can take this team far."

Groy's leadership will be essential for the two players projected to start to his right. After missing most of the past two seasons because of knee problems, Lewallen had a strong spring and appears to have locked up the spot at left guard. After studying last season under Frederick, Voltz is a near lock to start at center.

"Being the number two center as a freshman was a good opportunity for me to learn from the older guys and learn under Travis Frederick," said Voltz. "Right now I am trying to hone the position and make it my own. I have to learn all the techniques and the calls and become a better leader. I think I have done that pretty well so far."

With Havenstein again manning his spot at right tackle (where he started all 14 games last season), the only open spot is at right guard. That position battle will involve Matthias (four starts at right guard last year) and Costigan (nine starts).

"Those guys are going to push themselves to get right," said tailback Melvin Gordon. "They know the standard of linemen at Wisconsin. It's the same for running backs. It's the same for offensive linemen. They'll get right."

Burning Question: Who will back up where?

After surviving a knee injury scare in the spring, Williams will join Marz as providing depth at both tackle positions. If Matthias doesn't win the starting right guard job, the experience senior should be available.

Center is the bigger question since UW doesn't have many options after Voltz. Appleton native Chris Gill (walking on to the program for one season after graduating from Mississippi) brings maturity and experience to the program, and he could really be a big blessing for UW if he can adjust.

Biggest Strength: A deceiving amount of experience. With a No. 1 line featuring Groy at left tackle, Lewallen at left guard, Voltz at center, Costigan at right guard and Havenstein at right tackle, the group – minus Voltz - has combined to play in 89 games with 44 starts. And other than Costigan, that group worked all spring together.

Biggest Problem Area: Depth. It's slowly coming around, but the Badgers will be in trouble if they lose multiple players because of injuries this upcoming season.

"I think the strength by numbers will be better for sure, and they have to be," Andersen said. "We've got to be able to get into a practice situation and practice scenario where we can build a quality travel team and then build a quality service team for the defense. So that's going to be a work in progress."

Final Thought: The transition from Bob Bostad and Mike Markuson crippled Wisconsin's offensive line in the early season. The transition, so far, from Bart Miller to T.J. Woods has been well received by the players, especially since Woods has taught the same type of principles that Bostad did during his tenure. This group doesn't have the big-time prospects like the 2010 offensive line did, but this group has the potential to be a really solid unit.

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