Injuries, position changes test Kaye's confidence

Redshirt freshman offensive lineman will compete for a starting spot next season

The 2004 football season has toyed with Danny Kaye.

"It's been a rough year but I've learned a lot, tried to grow up a little bit," Kaye said.

The 6-foot-8, 320-pound University of Wisconsin redshirt freshman offensive lineman has played well enough in practice to twice earn a spot ‘in the depth,' only to have injuries relegate him to the scout team. Bowl practices have brought a new challenge: moving back to guard from tackle, perhaps permanently.

"It's kind of a mental roller coaster," Kaye said. "One day you are getting yelled at a lot, the next day you are learning a lot in the game planning with the ones and twos. Then you are back on the scout team. It's been a roller coaster mentally."

With four of the Badgers' top six linemen moving on after the Outback Bowl, Kaye is one of the linemen who will be vying for one of three open starting spots in 2005.

Only left tackle Joe Thomas and center Donovan Raiola will return next year. It had been assumed Kaye was being groomed to compete for the right tackle vacancy left by seniors Morgan Davis and Mike Lorenz but Kaye was moved to right guard when bowl practices began. He began his career as a left guard, played left tackle in spring workouts and has also lined up at right tackle.

"I'd love to be thrown in that fire," Kaye said, referring to the chance he could start next fall. "[Offensive line coach Jim] Hueber told me that I really need to show something in these couple weeks here in bowl practice and in spring practice."

At guard Wisconsin must replace a pair of four-year starters—Dan Buenning and Jonathan Clinkscale.

"It's going to be real hard to replace those guys with all the experience they had," Kaye said. "And Coach Hueber's in a tough spot cause we're all so young still and our class is still growing up and we're losing a great bunch of seniors."

"I'm just trying to get back into guard form, I guess you could say," Kaye said. " Trying to figure out just mentally, getting ready to play guard again."

Kaye was enjoying a very strong fall camp and looked like a legitimate second-team offensive tackle before a shoulder injury sidelined him for the final two weeks of camp. He was set to work in the depth with the second team prior to the injury but had to work his way back up from the scout team afterwards.

He succeeded, rejoining the depth for Wisconsin's fifth game of the year, versus Illinois. Kaye played on the field goal team that week and at Ohio State and also played with the second-team offensive line at the end of the Illinois game.

Just as things were going well, though, Kaye injured his knee the Wednesday prior to the Purdue game and missed a month of practice. He is still feeling pain from the injury and is not 100 percent physically.

"I was actually really confident and really happy with how things were going until I hurt my knee," Kaye said. "I'm still trying to get back up to where I was mentally and my confidence."

"Just playing at this level is something that mentally I need to assure myself of again and especially trying to play on this leg again," Kaye said. "It's hard. I'm still trying to get confidence back. Just learning Xs and Os and the blocking assignments has kind of been a problem for me… especially knowing different positions."

"Playing tackle it's got to be a little quicker," he said. "I'm kind of just working in a littler space playing guard."

Kaye, who is left-handed, has not only had to adjust to playing guard rather than tackle, but to playing on the right side of the line.

"Playing on the right side is awkward for me," Kaye said. "I'm still trying to get used to that. If I had a choice I would probably play the left side, but I'm getting used to it so it really doesn't matter.

"I'm still learning, I'm still real young. So I learn from the older guys every day and do the best that I can."

The injuries and position changes have imposed road blocks in Kaye's development but he remains one of the most important young players on the Badgers' roster.

"I think I need to get in that state of mind where football is fun and I know everything again and just the comfort zone I just need to be in again, like you were in high school," Kaye said. "Obviously this isn't high school but just to be in that zone where you know what's going on all the time.

"I just want to play. There's a lot going on in my head. I'm just trying to get settled and just play football again."

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