News and Notes: The starters remained unchanged throughout camp: junior left tackle Joe Thomas, senior left guard Matt Lawrence, senior center Donovan Raiola, senior right guard Jason Palermo and redshirt freshman right tackle Kraig Urbik… The depth is up in the air. It appears Marcus Coleman is being groomed as Raiola's future replacement at center and is being trained as a utility lineman capable of being the first reserve at center or guard. Partly, this is because UW may want to shield itself from burning second-team left guard Andy Kemp's redshirt… The same situation could play out at tackle, where Eric Vanden Heuvel was the third tackle throughout camp, due to Danny Kaye's in-camp knee injury. But Kaye and Mike Van Someren will probably be the first tackles off the bench, in an attempt to prevent UW from playing Vanden Heuvel as a true freshman.
Fall MVP: Joe Thomas. This has become pretty redundant since his first spring practice season. He is going to be the best lineman to ever play at UW when it is all said and done. He is a better run blocker than he was a year ago and he remains a dominant pass blocker. His athleticism is outrageous for an offensive lineman and he uses it to get to the second level and punish linebackers and defensive backs.
Player on the rise: Matt Lawrence. The fifth-year senior guard had a good fall camp after a solid spring and should have a productive season taking over for four-year starter Dan Buenning.
Questions answered: Before camp, the feeling here was that Kaye and Kemp would press for starting roles. That could not have been further from reality. Lawrence never blinked as the starting left guard and while Kemp continues to show immense potential, he was not near the level of Lawrence or Palermo at guard. Even before Kaye was injured, Urbik had command of the right tackle spot.
Questions remain: How does the line react to injuries? For all intents and purposes, Palermo is Raiola's backup at center, and Coleman looks likely to be the first interior lineman to fill in the blanks. Once Kaye is completely healthy, which should be soon, he will be the first tackle off the bench, and if UW continues to want to save Vanden Heuvel's redshirt, Van Someren will be next. But will this be possible over the course of a season, or will Kemp and Vanden Heuvel be pushed into playing time?
Of more immediate concern is how quickly the three new starters will blend in with Thomas and Raiola. The starters on UW's line should be fine once they gel, but how long will that process take? Expect this, like last year's edition, to be a better pass blocking than run blocking line. But the 2005 version should be a little better at running block than 2004 while perhaps suffering a slight drop off in pass protection.
Final thoughts: Thomas is a star in the making and Raiola is one of the best centers in the Big Ten. The rest remains to be seen, though Palermo, Lawrence and Urbik look respectable. Urbik made some solid strides this fall after battling through an injury in spring ball. More than anywhere else save quarterback, however, UW cannot afford any injuries here.