MADISON – Even though there will be a lot of familiar faces from Wisconsin’s 2016 offensive line when the Badgers’ open the 2017 season September 1, head coach Paul Chryst didn’t deny that things are still a work in progress to get the group to the level he would like them to be at in the strength department.
He can thank predecessor Gary Andersen for that.
Chryst hasn’t sugarcoated the fact that the Wisconsin’s offensive line he inherited in 2015 was vastly different than the one he left in 2011. Not only were the Badgers’ numbers way down (largely due to injuries), the line’s offseason conditioning had changed from brute strength via weights to more speed with conditioning.
“We still have a ways to go,” Chryst said. “If you go back, there is a lot of guys that played good football and were good players for us that got their first starts as redshirt juniors. You have Michael Deiter, who is going into his redshirt junior year, and he has a ton of starts under his belt.”
Deiter has been the line’s veteran player entering each of the last two seasons. A year ago, his 13 starts trumped the combined total of his four offensive linemates at the division-1 level. This year Wisconsin is projected to have experienced starters at all five positions.
“(The line) has been putting the time in in the weight, they’re putting the time in the film room and certainly putting the time in in practice,” Chryst said. “That has to help. It’s been a good progression for those guys. They can only do what you ask them to do and do their best. They’re giving that. I think it will result in growth by that group.”
Even though the line only has to replace left tackle Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph has been able to rotate in some different players and tinker with combinations with sophomore left guard Jon Dietzen and junior right tackle Jacob Maxwell out in spring with various injuries.
Of the group, Chryst pointed to center Tyler Biadasz and right tackle Patrick Kasl working with the first-team line, and left tackle Cole Van Lanen with the second-team line, taking advantage of the reps.
“That’s the product of a lot of reps,” Chryst said of the redshirt freshmen. “You are getting a lot of work. That’s where spring is so invaluable to a group like that … Tyler and Patrick have been getting a lot of reps with the ones on the o-line.
Building Depth at Inside Linebacker
Wisconsin has gone through 12 spring practices without any major injuries to its starting units (always the biggest goal of spring), but that doesn’t mean injuries haven’t played a part in altering positions.
No group has been hit harder with injuries than the inside linebackers, as its top four players - Jack Cichy (shoulder), Ryan Connelly (shoulder) T.J. Edwards (foot) and Chris Orr (knee) – have missed parts or all of spring.
That has allowed redshirt sophomore Mike Maskalunas, true sophomore Griffin Grady and redshirt freshman Noah Burks to get some work that would have otherwise gone to more experienced players. The Badgers were also able to get junior Arrington Farrar a lot of work during Friday’s scrimmage after recently moving to the position from safety when his body development wasn’t conducive to his old position.
“They have grown a lot,” Orr said Monday. “You can see the game is starting to slow down for them. They are starting to get more and more comfortable, so they are starting to make more plays. They have grown a lot, just from even fall camp or even from the starter, as far as from what I’ve seen. I’m extremely proud of them with what they’ve been able to do. It’s a lot to ask for.”
Chryst noted his disappointment that redshirt sophomore Nick Thomas is going through another injury in his third spring. He missed his first season recovering from groin surgery and will miss the remainder of spring after apparently suffering a knee injury.
Fortunately, Thomas’ injury likely won’t prevent him from participating from summer conditioning and workouts.
Spring Game Format
According to Chryst, Wisconsin will go through a warm-up prior to the 6:30 p.m. start time and then have a practice phase and a scrimmage phase.
In the first part, which will be non-tackle, Wisconsin will have two team sessions, some 7-on-7 work and punt team work. Following a 15-minute halftime, the Badgers will come back on to the field – likely with the typical introductions fans would see for a home game – and go through a scrimmage.
“We’ll play what looks like football, hopefully,” Chryst said.
Extra Points: Wisconsin will practice Tuesday and Thursday morning before the spring game … Like Thomas, fullback Austin Ramesh will miss the last week of spring but will be ready for summer workouts … Cornerback Faion Hicks (arm) has an injury that will likely prevent him from participating in summer conditioning, per Chryst … Chryst complemented the seven early enrollees for their ability to come in and start blending in with the older players.