Setting the Stage
After years of low numbers, Wisconsin enters the spring with considerable depth in scholarship numbers but aren’t injury free. Left guard Jon Dietzen (eight starts in 2016) and right tackle Jacob Maxwell (seven starts) are sitting out this spring recovering from injuries/surgeries, meaning the Badgers will be able to mix and match combination. UW has no seniors to replace but need a new left tackle with Ryan Ramczyk declaring for the N.F.L. draft
Player to Watch: David Edwards
With Ramczyk gone and Maxwell out, the Wisconsin staff is giving David Edwards the reps at left tackle to see how he handles the position and if it’s a long-term fit. That means Edwards has done four different positions in four years: high school quarterback, redshirting tight end and freshman right tackle.
Edwards was thrown into the deep end at Ohio State but played well enough to start the final seven games. He continues to improve his weight (up 10 pounds to tip the scales at 306) and has the knowledge now that he’s capable of playing against talented defensive lines and linemen.
“As I continued to play I kept getting confidence in myself,” Edwards said. “The first couple drives of Ohio State weren’t very good, but as I continued to play against Iowa and Nebraska I got better. As time grew on, I got more confident and knew I could do it. Going against good players makes you a better player as well.”
Offensive coordinator/line coach Joe Rudolph had a number of younger options he could have plugged into the left tackle spot and left Edwards to grow at right tackle, but the staff preferred to have the inexperienced options working at the right tackle spot.
“You want your five best players out there,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “I liked a lot of things David did last year.”
Edwards believes the move is temporary but could definitely see himself playing the position during the 2017 season if it becomes natural.
“More than anything for me this spring is working on my punch timing on my pass sets, my back-side arm up and under on my run fits and my elbow squeezed on my blocks,” Edwards said.
Story Line to Watch: Young Freshmen
Wisconsin has four redshirt or true freshmen on its spring camp roster and all will get considerable opportunities. Tyler Biadasz continues to make considerable strides in learning the offense and worked during week one as the first-team center with junior Michael Deiter spending time at left guard. UW was in a bind last year when Dietzen and now-junior Micah Kapoi were injured, which forced them to put former walk-on Brett Connors at center for four games. The results were mixed, especially against Michigan and Ohio State, so Biadasz is being groomed as the center of the future.
Part of the reason Chryst moved Edwards was to give Patrick Kasl and Cole Van Lanen more reps, which we saw through the first two days. Kasl has worked as the starting right tackle and looks the part at 6-5 and 315 pounds. Van Lanen has worked as the second-team left tackle. Rudolph told me last fall that Van Lanen is being groomed as the team’s future left tackle. How he handles this spring will tell a lot.
Kayden Lyles enrolled early and looks the part. Working at second-string left guard, Lyles’ role this season will likely be determined by the health of Dietzen and Kapoi.
End-of-Spring Goal: Building Some Quality Depth
The first-team offensive line won’t be finalized until the fall when Dietzen returns to the lineup and the staff figures out where Maxwell is health wise. Therefore this spring is about young players getting opportunities with the starting line.
Players like sophomore David Moorman (second-team RT), Kapoi (rotating in with the first team) and Kevin Estes (previously buried on the depth chart) have an opportunity to show they can be counted on if injuries arise or compete for starting spots.
With an experienced group returning, Rudolph is planning on exposes his group to different fronts and more pressures over the 15 practices, more than what UW would like get in team drills.
“One thing we did (last year) was got closer as a unit,” Edwards said. “The more reps we get together, the better will be with the continuity and that chemistry. When we get Jon and Jacob Maxwell back, we’ll be even better.”