OMAHA, Neb. – Taking a look at his career arc, redshirt freshman right tackle David Edwards has been naturally building toward being a standout right tackle, even if he admits that he has surprised himself with his progression.
A former high school quarterback at Downers Grove (Ill.) North, Edwards was recruited as a tight end by colleges and spent his redshirt season at Wisconsin adding weight, learning technique and getting comfortable playing with his hand in the ground. Naturally a few more pounds and a move a few feet to his right was coming next.
“I learned on the fly,” Edwards said. “I have guys like (Ryan) Ramczyk, (Michael) Deiter, Beau (Benzschawel) and even Jon (Dietzen) makes it so much easier for me … It’s great having their support because it takes a lot of pressure off of me. If there’s a certain stunt or technique that I don’t have down, I can always ask them.”
It’s a small sample size, but Edwards appears to be asking all the right questions. Replacing injured right tackle Jacob Maxwell and making his first career start against No.7 Nebraska, Edwards has helped the Wisconsin’s rushing offense reach another level. Going into this weekend at Purdue (3-7, 1-6 Big Ten), the Badgers (8-2, 5-2) are averaging 258.7 yards over the last three games and 4.9 yards per carry.
After rushing for 10 touchdowns in the first seven games of the season, Wisconsin had eight rushing scores in the last three weeks. More importantly, offensive coordinator/line coach Joe Rudolph has stuck with the same starting five the last two games after heavily rotating players at Iowa.
“I don’t think we’re there yet,” Edwards said. “I think there are a lot of things we can clean up. We ran the ball well (against Illinois) and credit goes to our defense.”
Edwards deserves some praise, too. He spent all of 2015 getting used to playing out of a three-point stance and adding weight, upwards of 75 pounds to his frame. Instead of dropping back to pass, Edwards had to get used to delivering blocks against bruising defensive linemen.
Just when he was getting the hang of things, Edwards and the coaching staff agreed to move him inside to right tackle after spring practices to help the Badgers add some critical depth to a depleted offensive line.
“Everything happens a lot quicker when you’re a tackle rather than as a tight end,” Edwards said. “A tight end can move in space, whereas tackle everything is pretty much right in front of you. Almost the pass protection is a lot different than tight end.”
He still has the mind of a skill player though, a knowledge base that helps him have good communications with the tight ends on his side of the formation. Considering head coach Paul Chryst’s innovation as a play caller, don’t count out Edwards doing a pass route out of a jumbo package.
“That be fun,” Edwards said. “Whatever they want to do.”
Chryst was asked Monday what offensive lineman’s development stood out to him, a question he couldn’t answer because of the route each player has taken to get to this point in the season.
- Left tackle Ryan Ramczyk’s only collegiate snaps were in division 3 two years ago, and the junior has developed into one of the top offensive line players in the country.
- Freshman left guard Jon Dietzen started the second game of the season, missed four games with a leg injury suffered in that start and has been a boost to the line since his return.
- Sophomore center Michael Deiter – the most experienced of the group with 23 career starts – has been bouncing between left guard and center because of the injuries to Dietzen and others.
- Sophomore Beau Benzschawel is still getting used to right guard after playing right tackle most of last season but has started to play noticeably better the last few weeks next to Edwards.
“I think all in their own ways are progressing,” Chryst said. “I think if you look at our offensive line, they all have such a different story to them… I like seeing each one of their development. It’s been good, and we need to keep doing that.”
There’s a lot of variables that go into it, but Wisconsin’s defense has been stifling on third downs any way it’s viewed.
With an experience front seven that has yielded a devastating pass rush, the Badgers have allowed opponents to convert just 26.9 percent of their third-down attempts, ahead of the 2006 team’s school record of 28.2 percent. UW’s opponents have gone three-and-out on 37.4 of their possessions this season, the 10th-best mark of any FBS defense.
“It’s execution,” Chryst said. “It all comes down to that, playing the game. Are you executing? Are you doing your assignment? Are you giving yourself a chance to have a chance?”
UW has put itself in position to get off the field by the work it’s done on first and second down. The Badgers held Illinois without a third-down conversion (0-for-9) Saturday, the first time UW had done that since at least 1998.
Illinois attempted only one third-down attempt of less than eight yards, and UW’s run defense and pass coverage forced the Illinois to try and convert seven times in at least third-and-10. That fits into the theme of the season, as opponents have faced an average of 7.3 yards on 134 third-down attempts of the UW defense this season.
In situations where Wisconsin’s defense has put an opponent in third-and-8 or longer, UW has held teams to 7 of 56 (12.5 percent)
“There isn’t real secrets,” Chryst said. “You get to play, you play well, you have days like that where they don’t convert. It’s nothing magical happening, but it’s fun to see.”
Extra Points: Chryst said Wisconsin narrowed the plan down in the red zone during last week’s practices, did a lot of practice reps on what the staff would call in the red zone so the offense knew the plan and executed. UW was 8-for-8 in the red zone with six touchdowns … Nose tackle Olive Sagapolu is expected to miss his fifth straight game with a right arm injury. Chryst said the sophomore has been “ramping up” his workouts but no timetable has been given on clearance.