CHICAGO –The big boys up front at Wisconsin are ready to do what they do best.
With a power running game, a long time staple for the Badgers, being led by one of the country’s top tailbacks in Melvin Gordon, the junior will have the benefit of running behind a lot of experience, including senior right tackle Rob Havenstein.
“We’re not going to go out and throwing the spread offense around,” Havenstein said this week during Big Ten Media Days. “I don’t think I’m built for that first off. When it comes down to it we’re going to have to rely on our run game to open things up, open up the offense. As an offensive lineman, I want to see a run being called every play, because you want to be able to put them [the defense] on the ground and make yourself look better.”
Havenstein will have plenty of chances to put his head down and run people over. With four of five returning starters, not to mention Dallas Lewallen, who saw plenty of action before injuries shortened his season, Havenstein and Co. know have the experience on the Big Ten stage.
While building chemistry to bring all 18 linemen on the fall camp roster together can be a challenge, Havenstein and the other lineman make sure to spend time together off the field. Whether it’s visiting each other’s home towns or simply hanging out over the summer, Havenstein made sure to get the group together, which helps keep the team on the same page.
“Every Sunday we’ll come in and watch film together, whether or not we are in a happy mood or a sad mood will depend on that Saturday,” Havenstein said. “Usually if it’s a win, whether or not it was a clean win, or a good win, a win’s a win, so you can never take that away. We come in and joke around but still get good film work in and kind of pre-watch the film before Coach Woods comes in and reams us out.”
Wisconsin’s quarterback situation is still uncertain, but the Badgers will look to add onto their 283.8 rushing yards per game last season behind a big group of blue-collar lineman. The offensive line also gave up only 1.23 sacks per game, so the group should be sound.
One of 10 players selected to the Big Ten’s Preseason Watch List, Havenstein will be important in pass protection and play a key role in run blocking. In his career, Havenstein has blocked for three 1,000 yard rushers (Montee Ball, James White and Gordon). With White and Ball playing on Sundays now, perhaps Corey Clement will be the next addition to that list.
“Everyone runs a little different,” Havenstein said of comparing Ball, White and Gordon. “You don’t really have to make too much of a hole if feel yourself kind of losing on a battle, because all you’ve got to do is dig in for an inch and he’s (Melvin) going to break it for 100 or 99 and go the distance. That’s just the type of players all three of them are. I’ve been very fortunate to those types of backs behind me making me look probably better than I am just because their play elevates everyone around them.”
It has been a long road since Havenstein came to Madison, losing almost 70 pounds off his former 400-pound frame. He’s added muscle to become more conditioned and stayed lean to be explosive enough to take on quicker defensive ends.
“If someone thinks I’m really good, that’s great, I love hearing it,” he said. “If someone thinks I’m the worst player in college football and I should never be allowed to lace up my cleats, that’s fine. I love it. It’s someone’s opinion. It is a great honor to make the list, but I can’t control that. The only thing I can control is my play this season, and I’m looking forward to elevating my game.”