MADISON - With Wisconsin needing to replace three starters on the offensive line, and having plenty of young unproven depth to boot, it was critical for the unit to stay healthy throughout fall camp to develop chemistry and continuity. Through 10 days of practices, nothing could be further from reality.
While offensive line coach Joe Rudolph said the Badgers have locked in three starters on the line, injuries continue to plague the unit. After redshirt sophomore Hayden Biegel went down with a head injury last week, Wisconsin was forced to continually rotate positions with redshirt freshman Beau Benzschawel (right knee) and true freshman Jon Dietzen (ankle) both sitting out Monday.
Redshirt freshman Jacob Maxwell got the majority of the right tackle reps – the first time playing the position extensively – on Monday. Of course, he didn’t practice Tuesday with a right shoulder injury, forcing redshirt junior Walker Williams to take reps at the position.
The daily uncertainty of who will and won’t be able to practice t has started to feel like deja vu for Tyler Marz, as the redshirt senior has to go all the way back to his true freshman season in 2011 to be able to remember a scenario like this before.
“I remember my freshman year; I think Josh Oglesby was a little limited and Rob (Havenstein) was taking the number one reps,” said Marz. “I was taking reps with the second team offensive line. I was a 270 pound tackle trying to play in the Big Ten. It wasn’t fun, but those are valuable reps right there you have to learn quick.”
Marz’s position on the line is locked in. Starting the two previous seasons at left tackle, Marz has developed into the leader of the group. Junior Dan Voltz and redshirt freshman Michael Deiter have also claimed their starts at center and right guard, respectively.
And while other two spots remain, UW was in dire straits when the two players projected to compete for the right tackle spot – Benzschawel and Biegel – continue to live in the training room. Being hit hard with graduation and seeing four players lost due to injuries since 2012, the majority of the players on UW’s fall camp offensive line haven’t received the ideal number of reps in practice, let alone played in a college football game.
It’s cause for concern but doubt that Marz casts aside.
“They’re not afraid to jump in and get there reps,” said Marz. “It is still early in camp we still have a lot of practice left, and hopefully we can get those other guys who are hurt back so they can get some more reps.”
During one segment Tuesday, the No. 2 line featured transfer Ryan Ramczyk at left tackle, redshirt freshman Micah Kapoi at left guard, redshirt freshman George Panos at center, redshirt junior Logan Schmidt at right guard and redshirt freshman Brett Connors at right tackle.
While panic has stricken the internet message boards, Marz hasn’t seen the influx of young talent disrupt the communication on the line, even with players seemingly swapping positions every practice.
“That is why we hang around together as a group,” said Marz. “There’s 12 or 13 of us in camp right now; we move around together. If that is having lunch together or watching film together. Wisconsin is known for players to be able to play multiple positions. I think it doesn’t matter where you play on the field as long as you can communicate, and like I said, we hang out together as a unit off the field so when we are on the field it makes the communication easier.”
As important as the physical reps have become in the last 11 practices, Marz said he’s seen an uptick in the young players improving on the mental side of the game. One of two seniors on the line, thrusting him into a position of leadership, Marz hasn’t been shy about helping players adjust in the meetings rooms and on the field.
Even with the constant changes to his right, Marz hopes the extra attention to detail will pay off in the long run … just like it did for him during the injury-plagued 2011 camp.
“I think it is good to put a little pressure on those guys you know, I like that feeling, it motivates you, gets you going and makes you get in your book at night instead of just sitting there,” Marz said. “Walker has been jumping around, Connors has moved around, those guys have just stepped right in and they aren’t blinking, it has been good.”