News and notes – Joe Thomas established himself as a left tackle after starting the Music City Bowl at defensive end. Thomas spent the latter half of spring workouts as the No. 1 left tackle….Morgan Davis spent the first half of spring as the No. 1 left tackle then took the majority of the snaps as the No. 1 right tackle. Davis, though, started the spring game at left tackle for the Cardinal squad….right tackle Mike Lorenz is still officially considered a co-first-team tackle with Thomas and Davis, but his reps with the first unit diminished appreciably as spring progressed….Danny Kaye finished spring as the No. 2 left tackle….Jake Wood opened spring as the No. 1 right guard and maintained that position until injuring his shoulder. Returning starter Jonathan Clinkscale assumed the position after Wood's injury….reserve guard Randy Gyllin missed spring workouts with an undisclosed injury.
Spring MVP – Joe Thomas. On a line with five returning starters, Thomas, a reserve last season, may be the best of the bunch. The sophomore has lived up to his billing and then some. He does not have the mammoth girth Wisconsin has grown accustomed to boasting at the left tackle position, but Thomas is sensationally strong and incredibly quick. His footwork is superb for a veteran let alone a second-year player who filled in as an extra lineman on short yardage plays last year. When run blocking this spring, Thomas consistently drove his man out of the play. More importantly for a team that has struggled to protect its quarterbacks in recent seasons, Thomas was devastating protecting the blind side. As demonstrated through battles with agile ends Jamal Cooper and Jonathan Welsh, Thomas has the quickness to keep opponents from turning the corner. And once he gets his hands on a defender, it is over.
Springing ahead – Thomas took the most noticeable strides, taking full advantage of the opportunity to compete for the starting left tackle spot. Another second-year player, though, emerged to solidify the team's depth at tackle. Danny Kaye opened spring as Mike Lorenz' backup at right tackle and as the No. 3 left tackle. After Thomas assumed the left tackle role, Kaye received reps as the No. 2 left tackle and solidified himself as the Badgers' fourth tackle. Kaye looked comfortable on either side of the ball and played quite well, putting his strength and athleticism on display. He struggled with Cooper's pure speed rush at times and still could be more physical when run blocking but he is a very talented reserve. After serving as an understudy for all three top tackles this year, Kaye should be ready to prosper as the likely starting right tackle in 2005.
What competitions remain? – Most of the depth along the offensive line is well established. Jason Palermo will again backup Donovan Raiola at center and Matt Lawrence will again backup Dan Buenning at left guard. Technically, the tackle positions are still not quite settled, but it would be quite a shock if Thomas does not end up starting on the left side, with Davis moving to the No. 1 right tackle position. Lorenz would serve as Davis' backup and an extra lineman in short yardage situations, a role he filled two seasons ago.
The one competition to watch in the fall is at right guard. Jake Wood was having an excellent spring before injuring his shoulder. The extent of the injury is unknown but if fully recovered Wood should leap right back into a competition with the incumbent Clinkscale.
Final notes – In addition to Thomas and Kaye, many other young offensive linemen continued to develop this spring. Marcus Coleman joined the second team at a variety of positions after Wood went down and played well. Andrew Weininger, Luke Knauf and Mike Van Someren also improved measurably.
Four of Wisconsin's top seven offensive linemen in 2004 will be seniors. The continued development of the young players behind them, however, is helping to insure that the ensuing loss of depth is not calamitous in 2005.