Vanden Heuvel ready for contact

Badger offensive tackle has been limited by foot injury

MADISON — When the University of Wisconsin football team has started hitting this spring, offensive tackle Eric Vanden Heuvel has had to be a spectator.

That should change Wednesday, when Vanden Heuvel expects to be cleared for full-contact work. He has been resigned to non-contact drills through the Badgers' first six spring practices.

Vanden Heuvel's full-fledged spring arrival will be a welcome sight for an offensive line short on scholarship bodies. And the 6-foot-7, 326-pound sophomore could hold a key to UW's 2006 line.

Three months ago Vanden Heuvel was thrust onto the line at left tackle after All-American Joe Thomas tore his anterior cruciate ligament while moonlighting with the defensive line in the Capital One Bowl.

Vanden Heuvel did better than hold his own as a fill-in receiving his first when-it-counts game action of his young career. He played extremely well against the Tigers and left the 2005 campaign as UW's fourth-most experienced (from a meaningful game time perspective) returning lineman, trailing only returning starters Thomas and Kraig Urbik, and top interior line reserve Marcus Coleman, who started one game last season.

"It felt good. It was definitely a confidence booster for me," Vanden Heuvel said of his bowl-game experience. "I kind of told myself that I was ready for the next level and that I'd be ready for this coming year, for when I had to start. So it just kind of helped my self kind of grow into it I guess."

New offensive line coach Bob Palcic adheres to the tried and true coaching philosophy of discovering the best players to put on the field, and then sorting them out to various positions. That has led to speculation that Vanden Heuvel could end up as the starting right tackle this year with that position's incumbent, Urbik, sliding down to one of the guard spots.

Urbik has only played right tackle so far this year and Vanden Heuvel has primarily lined up on the left side for drills, but he played right tackle on Friday.

"I'm sure that coach has some ideas, but I haven't really heard anything," Vanden Heuvel said. "I'll just go where they put me."

What is Vanden Heuvel hoping to show the coaching staff this spring?

"That I have what it takes to start next year," he said. "That I have the ability now. To gain their trust on the field is what I want to do this spring. I've had a setback so far. So I'm looking forward to this Wednesday to be able to finally go out there and show them what I've got."

Vanden Heuvel gave Badger fans a taste of his talent with his performance against Auburn. But there was a time when Vanden Heuvel wished that he would be heading into his first spring as a redshirt freshman. He was not always keen on the situation, but his redshirt was burned the second week of the season, when former offensive line coach Jim Hueber inserted him into the Temple blowout, shortly after putting in another then-true freshman, guard Andy Kemp.

"Now, I'm kind of glad (I didn't redshirt)," Vanden Heuvel said.

If he had redshirted, UW's depth would have looked much different, and the Badgers might have had a struggle on their hands once Thomas went down.

"That's what I think Coach Hueber was planning for the entire time, for something like that to happen," Vanden Heuvel said. "Luckily, he was right."

Vanden Heuvel was eager for his first spring season, but that, and the winter workouts that preceded it, were put on hold when he ruptured his plantar fascia in late January.

"It just kind of healed throughout winter conditioning, which (I had to) stay out of mostly," he said. "It's taking it's time to heal now, but I'm going to get back, probably Wednesday."

The injury — to the arch of his foot — should not be a long-term worry, since he has been taking it slowly with his recuperation to this point.

"One of the things I was looking forward to this year was actually testing out this spring, and seeing what all the college conditioning actually did for me compared to high school," Vanden Heuvel said. "So I was kind of bummed I wasn't able to do that. I've just got to fight through it, make sure it doesn't come back once I get over it. Make sure it's not a chronic thing…

"You pretty much just have to take care of it while it is hurt and make sure it heals up alright and it will be fine. Just can't take it too fast, though."

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