Rebuilding the Trenches

A high priority from Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen and offensive line coach T.J. Woods since arriving on campus was to rebuild the depleted numbers on the Wisconsin offensive line. Through bowl prep and recruiting, UW's line is once again looking like a wealth of potential.

MADISON - The majority of Wisconsin's football roster was already in the locker room after a recent practice, except for a select group of players huddled at the far side of the McClain Center.

Over the watchful eye of Josh Oglesby, redshirt freshmen Trent Denlinger and Walker Williams, freshmen Ben Hemer and Aidan McNamara and host of others worked on pass and run blocking drills while their teammates were already heading out on their scooters. For a group drastically undermanned, building the young depth has been one of the highest priorities since the start of camp.

"They're coming along," said offensive line coach T.J. Woods. "It's a long arduous process and they're doing a doing a good job. That's why they are working at it while everyone else has showered. That's what it takes. Once they progress, they'll be good players."

In a year where depth has been at a premium, Woods and Wisconsin have been fortunate to be virtually injury free on the line, as left tackle Tyler Marz, left guard Ryan Groy and right tackle Rob Havenstein haven't missed a start.

At the right guard, Kyle Costigan has started 12 games after going through knee surgery in the offseason, but has been able to take series off because of UW having a capable backup in senior Zac Matthias.

The only semi-major injuries have hindered center Dallas Lewallen (head, ankle), but UW had the luxury of highly-recruited Dan Voltz being able to step in as a redshirt freshman. Lewallen has started seven games while Voltz stepped in to start the final four games of the year.

With that cohesive group, Wisconsin set a school record for rushing yards in a season (3,396) and has a chance for more when it takes on No.8 South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl on Jan.1 in Orlando, FL. The Gamecocks are allowing 142.3 yards per game – 32nd in the country – but gave up 200-or-more rushing yards three times this year.

"We've got our work cut out for us," said Woods.

The future is bright for the line following the season. Wisconsin projects to return four starters and only lose first-team All-Big Ten pick Ryan Groy, but Woods says sophomore Ray Ball has been one of the more improved players in his group. On the travel squad this past season, Ball has contributed in six games.

"I see some improvements in him," said Woods, who also noted Hayden Biegel, Denlinger and Williams as players who have taken steps forward. "We're going to be counting on him. The heat is on to get them right and get them where we need to be."

The pressure is also there to rebuild the depth through recruiting. Wanting to have around 15 scholarship linemen in the program at all times, the Badgers are projected to be down to 10 by the start of spring, and not all of those players are healthy.

That had made linemen one of the top priorities in the 2014 recruiting and why Wisconsin has received a verbal commitment from six high school seniors, with a couple more ranked players still undecided.

"We want guys who are going to fit," said Woods. "If we have the opportunity to take a lot of kids to get us up to around 15, we'll take full advantage of it. If it doesn't, we'll rebuild it year by year."

Woods has been on campus less than a year, but says he quickly understood the level of expectations at Wisconsin thanks to Oglesby. A consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection during his 2011 season year, Oglesby has been a valuable asset as an offensive line graduate assistant, whether it be watching film with the players or assisting during the high school camps.

"With the guys, I think he has really helped their transition from what they grew up in to my system," said Woods. "They're a lot of similarities, which made it easy, but there are some fundamental differences. I think Josh has done a great job trying to bridge that gap between old and the new. It's been great for the kids and for me, too.

"This position group at the University of Wisconsin has more tradition than anyone else in the country. I think it's important for everyone involved to recognize that, respect that and continue that as best we can. It's important to know where you've been so you can know where you are trying to go."

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