With only 10 offensive linemen taking part in spring workouts, only nine healthy linemen available for the spring game and just six participating in every spring practice, there were plenty of opportunities to compete for playing time. True freshman Andy Kemp, who graduated from Menasha High School a semester early to take part this spring, is the No. 3 guard and No. 7 offensive lineman. He will push Lawrence at left guard and, after playing tackle in high school, he could also shift out to right tackle and compete with Kaye and Urbik.
Spring MVP — Joe Thomas. He missed a couple weekends of football workouts due to track competition, but for the second consecutive spring Thomas was clearly the Badgers' most impressive offensive lineman. He continues to get stronger and more athletic and is well on his way to becoming the next great Big Ten offensive lineman, let alone Badger.
Springing ahead — Andy Kemp looks assured of becoming just the second true freshman offensive line who will play for a Barry Alvarez coached UW team and he still may become the first to start. With his size (6-foot-6, 316 pounds), solid athletic ability and incredible strength, Kemp is physically ready. He still has to learn how to use his strength on the field, through better balance and leverage, but overall his technique was solid for a first-semester player who was just 17 years old when practice began this spring. If he can put it together consistently it will be tough for the Badgers to keep him off the field.
With the opportunity to start in front of them, Matt Lawrence and Jason Palermo played fairly well, though there were some moments along the way when UW's interior defensive line controlled the action. More often than not, however, this tandem did enough to show that they can flank Raiola.
Pressing questions — Depth is a major concern. The Badgers will have a tough time putting together a three deep this fall. With two more class of 2005 recruits set to join Kemp — Nate Nurse and Eric VandenHeuvel — UW will only have a dozen scholarship linemen in fall camp. The flip side is that nearly every one of them will have a legitimate shot at finishing fall "in the depth", which should make for some inspired competitions.
Aside from Thomas and Raiola, there is very little game experience to speak of within this group. But that problem is abrogated somewhat by the presence of fifth-year seniors like Lawrence and Palermo and the fact that Thomas and Raiola play the two most important positions on the line.
Looking ahead — Do not be surprised to see Kaye and Urbik split up the right tackle duties during the season as well, much as their predecessors at the position — Morgan Davis and Mike Lorenz — did last season. It does not look like either will pull away substantially as the competition progresses.
And if the two remain neck-and-neck at right tackle this year, the ripple effects could be beneficial to the Badgers down the road. If Lawrence and Palermo hold onto their starting jobs at the guard spots, UW would need to replace three senior starters next season as well, and getting both Kaye and Urbik playing time this season would allow the Badgers to move an experienced player to guard in 2006.
The largely inexperienced offensive line was regularly outplayed by the largely inexperienced defensive line this spring. The offensive line needs to show marked improvement in the fall, but the alarm need not be sounded too loudly. Because of how often the Badgers passed the ball this spring, the defensive linemen were able to tee off, putting the offensive line at a distinct disadvantage.
If they can stay relatively healthy, the 2005 Badger offensive line looks a lot like the 2004 group: serviceable but unspectacular. Thomas should be excellent and Raiola very good. Expect adequate play from the rest.