Two-way Thomas

Wisconsin junior offensive tackle may play defensive end for the second time in his college career — against the same team

When All-Big Ten offensive tackle Joe Thomas lines up in the Capital One Bowl Jan. 2, he will see a few familiar faces across the line of scrimmage — on Auburn's offensive line.

Thomas, considered one of the nation's best offensive linemen, will likely play defensive end for the second time in his college career when the University of Wisconsin football team takes the field at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando, Fla.

As a true freshman two years ago, Thomas spent the regular season as UW's sixth offensive lineman and was used as a tight end in heavy formations. A plague of injuries to the defensive line, though, thrust Thomas into a starting role at left defensive end against Auburn in the Music City Bowl. He played well, recording seven tackles.

Thomas has spent the past two seasons as the Badgers' starting left offensive tackle, and was a consensus first-team all-conference pick this year. Yet again, though, an injury-riddled defensive line is calling his name.

This time around, however, Thomas will play every snap for the Badgers' offense, but could fill in for about 10-15 plays on defense.

"Defense is so much different than offense, chasing after the ball on every play," Thomas said. "Whereas on offense you make your block and maybe run five or 10 yards. On defense you could run 50 yards on any play.

"So I would say probably 15 plays, 10 or 15 plays on defense. We usually get about 65 or 70 plays on offense. You are talking maybe 80, 85 total plays, which would be a large game, if on offense if we had a lot of plays.

"I think that would be pretty reasonable to expect that out of myself."

UW has discussed using Thomas on defense at other times this season but has avoided it to this point. The Badgers, however, are preparing to make Thomas a two-way player Jan. 2.

"After the Hawaii game JP (defensive line coach John Palermo) came up to me and told to start watching some film with him," Thomas said. "He said obviously if I played all downs on defense that would not be very good because I would be extremely tired on offense and unable to perform up to the level that I expect of myself."

Thomas feels he can benefit the team as a designated run stuffer, playing on some first downs and in short-yardage situations.

Down to three healthy defensive ends the Badgers could use Thomas' size (6-foot-8, 305 pounds), strength and athleticism to counter Auburn senior left tackle Marcus McNeill (6-9, 337) and senior right tackle Troy Reddick (6-5, 335).

McNeill started at right tackle in the 2003 Music City Bowl, across from Thomas. Reddick started at left guard in that game. Thomas probably also recalls senior tight end Cooper Wallace (6-4, 265), who also remains a starter for Auburn two years later.

"They (have) some big boys," Thomas said. "And I think being able to get in there and play defense against their bigger offensive line, help our guys out there, and when it's run try to get a little push against their offensive line. And then let the other guys run after the quarterback on second and third down."

Smattering of familiarity

In addition to Thomas, six current Badgers started in the 2003 Music City Bowl: seniors fullback Matt Bernstein, wide receivers Brandon Williams and Jonathan Orr, center Donovan Raiola, outside linebacker LaMarr Watkins and cornerback Levonne Rowan.

Bernstein has missed the past eight games due to injury and is not expected to play in the Capital One Bowl.

In addition to McNeill, Reddick and Wallace, Auburn returns three starters from two seasons ago: senior wide receiver Ben Obomanu, junior safety Will Herring and senior linebacker Travis Williams. Junior cornerback Montae Pitts started against UW in Nashville, but is listed as a reserve this time around.

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