Spring football: Line changes

Kemp set at left guard; a tackle could move to right guard; Stehle converts to tight end

MADISON—Sophomore Andy Kemp worked at first-team left guard Wednesday morning for the third consecutive practice in the University of Wisconsin football team's spring season. He had spent the first four practices at right guard.

"We'd like to essentially keep Andy on the left side and just get somebody to stay at home on that right side," head coach Bret Bielema said.

With Kemp establishing himself on the left side, junior Danny Kaye has swapped positions, moving to right guard to compete for that starting spot.

The development of the Badgers' offensive line has been limited this season by injuries to two of its best players: All American left tackle Joe Thomas, and Eric Vanden Heuvel, who backed up Thomas as a true freshman last season.

Thomas tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the Capital One Bowl but is expected to be at or near full strength in time for summer conditioning. Vanden Heuvel ruptured the plantar fascia in his foot at the end of January and was held out of most winter conditioning. He has been limited to non-contact work for most of the spring, but he began to work his way back Wednesday.

"It's something that is just going to heal up with time," Bielema said. "He's right on the verge. It's a situation where we don't want to push him beyond what he needs to because we obviously want him in the fall and just make sure it heals up the right way."

According to Bielema, once the team has a full complement of healthy linemen, there is a possibility UW could move a tackle inside to guard.

"That's something we can only get (when) we get those bodies there," Bielema said.

"We'd want our best two tackles because we know we can manage that position, and then if there is a tackle that is better at being a guard than one of the current guards that's when that switch will occur," Bielema said.

Though Bielema refrained from stating specifically which tackle could move to guard, a prime candidate would be incumbent right tackle Kraig Urbik. As a redshirt freshman Urbik had an impressive year at right tackle last season, but Vanden Heuvel, when he is healthy, may be able to take command of that position, which would allow Urbik to slide down to the right guard spot. Recently, Vanden Heuvel has been lining up at right tackle when he takes part in drills.

"Until (Vanden Heuvel) is able to establish himself with being in there with ‘team', ‘middle' and ‘one-on-ones', we don't want to make too many wholesale changes," Bielema said. "Just kind of spot him in when we're allowed to."

The Badgers, of course, are looking to replace three senior starters from a year ago: center Donovan Raiola and guards Matt Lawrence and Jason Palermo. Throughout the spring Kemp and Kaye have been the first-team guards and junior Marcus Coleman has been the first-team center.

Said Bielema: "Andy has made some good strides. I think Danny has got to learn consistency and… he can't have any shutoff valve. And the same way with Marcus. Marcus is a guy, I think Donovan Raiola started every game here for the last three years, so all eyes are on (Marcus). I know our opponents are looking at that position. He's a guy athletically that has an extremely large amount of talent, but it is just he's got to be able to use it at all times. He can't get worn down."

Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Jeff Stehle, who converted from defensive tackle to second-team left guard at the start of spring practices, has now moved over to tight end.

Stehle (6-foot-6, 299 pounds) satisfies the coaching staff's desire to have more size at the position to help in the running game.

"We wanted to get a bigger body in there obviously," Bielema said. "Andy (Crooks) and Sean (Lewis) are bigger bodies but after that it kind of goes down as far as size and abilities. Garrett (Graham) has continued to make some strides but he's probably a year away from doing that."

Stehle played tight end in high school and was recruited to play either that position, offensive tackle or defensive line.

"Put him over on defensive line (last year) because we were hurting for numbers," Bielema said.

Stehle and senior Mark Gorman converted from defensive tackle to offensive guard this spring.

"But I put a little asterisk by it and talked to him and Mark both," Bielema said. "I'd known one of them might be going to a tight end in a special situation."

Bielema feels that Stehle is athletic enough to play tight end.

"He ran extremely well for our testing times," Bielema said. "I know that he's a willing soul. He's just got to find a home on what he's doing."

Badger Nation Top Stories