MADISON - After spending the entirely of spring camp working as the starting right tackle, redshirt sophomore Hayden Biegel entered fall camp thinking the job was up to him to win or lose.
Biegel did win it, even though he likely didn’t accomplish it the way he wanted to.
No.20 Wisconsin finally has hammered out its starting offensive line less than a week before its season opener against No.3 Alabama in Arlington, Texas, but how they got there was anything but routine.
Wisconsin’s offensive line suffered through a rash of injuries during fall camp, as at least eight different players missed practice time because of injuries. No spot was hit harder than right tackle.
Shortly after Biegel went down with a concussion August 14 and was shelved for the remainder of the portion of fall camp to the media, his primary backup, redshirt freshman Beau Benzschawl, suffered a knee injury that has kept him sidelined.
Hence the major storyline of camp was born, especially with both redshirt freshman Jacob Maxwell (moving from left to right tackle) and redshirt junior Walker Williams (moving from backup guard to tackle) also suffered through injuries that caused them to miss practice time.
When fall camp closed to the media last week, the starting line (from left to right) was senior Tyler Marz, redshirt freshman Micah Kapoi, junior Dan Voltz, redshirt freshman Michael Deiter and Maxwell.
On the first depth chart released Monday, head coach Paul Chryst unveiled a juggled line that still had Marz and Voltz at their respective positions but had Biegel back at right tackle, Williams moved to right guard and Deiter flipped to left guard.
UW listed fifth-year senior Ray Ball, who was out with an arm injury, as the No. 2 left guard, Kapoi as the No. 2 option at both center and right guard and Maxwell as the backup left tackle.
Chryst said Biegel and Williams, who also was recovering from a head injury and is listed as Biegel’s backup for Saturday, are full go and this will be the group that starts against the third-ranked team in the country.
“You would have liked to have had more snaps, absolutely, but at the same time, they are going through it together,” said Chryst. “I think that there can be some benefits from that, as they go through and watch the tape.”
Dating back to the spring, this current lineup has rarely practiced together and never did so in fall camp, a major concern going up against a front seven of Alabama’s chalked full of some of the best talent in the country. Intimidating for certain but not a deal breaker, even for a group that includes three players – Biegel, Deiter and Williams – about to make their first collegiate start.
“We did good work in the weight room and the o-line got together a lot,” said Biegel, who returned to practice Aug. 27 wearing a no-contact jersey. “We were getting mentally prepared.”
Like many of his teammates, Biegel spent the offseason working on improving his footwork, hand placement and overall strength. He also has continued his strict regimen of adding weight to his frame. When Biegel committed in 2012, he was 6-6 and approximately 245 pounds. Developing better eating habits since his junior year of high school, Biegel is listed at 299 pounds and growing.
“The thing about gaining weight and sustaining weight is just routine,” said Biegel. “Every day getting up and making a protein shake for breakfast, trying to eat five or six meals a day and eat over 5,000 calories. Whenever you go home you do a little cheating, maybe not eat as much and lose a little weight, but you just have to make it up when you get back.”
Trying to balance the mix of staying as heavy as possible and fast as possible, Biegel said his season goal is to maintain a weight around 308 pounds. According to Chryst, Biegel has been in enough situations to warrant the start despite the lack of recent practice time.
“Right when he first got here, he picked things up pretty well,” said Chryst. “You feel like he's a veteran in the way that he approaches it.”
It’s much the same way with Williams, who played every position but center in the spring and played three different spots on the line during camp. That versatility comes from having been coached by four different assistants in his four years and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph pushing players to gain an overall knowledge of every spot.
After playing primarily playing tackle and taking reps at guard in an emergency, Williams said he had settled into the guard role at the onset of camp.
“Knowing all the positions has really helped me learn the entire scheme,” said Williams. “I think we’ve built some depth in the ones and twos. It’s really rare in the season, no matter how good your offensive line is, somebody is probably going to go down a game or two. It’s nice to have guys who you can plug and play and not miss a step.”
While Chryst admitted to feeling bad for his group of linemen for the amount of injuries and adversity fall camp dealt them, the first-year coach believes he’s got a hunger group of players that will be led by an anchor at left tackle in Marz (27 career starts) and Voltz (20 starts) in the middle.
“Bottom line is they've all got to communicate, and that's where I feel very fortunate with Dan Voltz at the center spot,” said Chryst. “You've got a guy that's got great knowledge of what we're trying to do, played in big games, and I think that we're in pretty good shape right there with Dan directing it.”