Spring wrap-up: Offensive line

Part 7 of BadgerNation.com's look back at Wisconsin's 2006 spring football practice season

News and notes — With Joe Thomas recuperating from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the Capital One Bowl, junior walk-on Mike Van Someren took nearly every snap at left tackle with the first- and second-team offense. Thomas is expected to take part in summer conditioning, which begins June 12.

In addition to Thomas, the only returning starter on the offensive line is Kraig Urbik. After playing right tackle as a redshirt freshman last year, Urbik shifted to right guard midway through this spring.

Urbik's shift coincided with Eric Vanden Heuvel's recovery from a ruptured plantar fascia, suffered during winter workouts in January. Thomas's backup last year, Vanden Heuvel is now the first-team right tackle.

Sophomore Andy Kemp opened spring at right guard, but shifted to left guard prior to Urbik's move.

Junior Danny Kaye began the spring as the first-team left guard, then shifted to right guard until Urbik's move. Kaye spent the latter half of spring playing guard and some tackle with the second-team offense.

Marcus Coleman played the entire spring as the No. 1 center.

UW's official post-spring depth chart shows a second-team offensive line of left tackle Kaye, redshirt freshman left guard Jeff Stehle, who converted from defensive tackle this spring, junior center Luke Knauf, junior right guard Andrew Weininger, and right tackle Van Someren.

Interestingly, Kaye played much more guard than tackle this spring, while Weininger was typically the second-team right tackle. Kaye, though, has played left tackle in practice in the past, and Weininger was at right guard during bowl practices in December.

Senior Mark Gorman spent the spring as the second-team right guard, after converting from the defensive line. But when UW's official two-deep was released after the spring game, it was announced that Gorman would move back to the defensive line.

Spring MVP — Urbik. He fared very well at right tackle last season, earning some freshman All-American acclaim, but he is probably best suited for guard, where he was outstanding this spring. He could be an even better player at the position than Dan Buenning, a four-year starter at guard for Wisconsin who last year started as a rookie for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Urbik is a big, fundamentally sound player who moves well and can bury defenders at the point of attack. Not as tenacious as Buenning, but an excellent all-around football player.

Springing ahead — Kemp went through some growing pains this spring but for a player in his first year on campus he is way ahead of the curve. An extraordinarily strong lineman, Kemp should thrive at left guard playing next to the All-American Thomas.

Vanden Heuvel missed valuable practice time due to his injury, but he looked comfortable at right tackle. It was a natural transition. Vanden Heuvel is too good a player to keep buried behind Thomas.

Van Someren competed very well considering the untenable position he was placed in. While the Badgers rather talented defensive line kept rotating in fresh bodies throughout the spring, and his fellow offensive linemen were duly rotating on and off the field, Van Someren continued to take snap, after snap, after snap, after snap — and at a position that is not a natural fit. All things considered, Van Someren did a fine job and he proved that he can be quite durable. He will find a home somewhere on the two-deep this fall.

Pressing questions — Where is the depth? The second-team offensive line struggled throughout spring ball, though it should be noted that having a pair of converted defensive tackles at the guard spots is a difficult situation.

However, UW needs to solidify players as quality reserves to guard against injuries. The Badgers may rely heavily on Kaye, Weininger and Van Someren to serve as "swing" linemen, capable of effectively filling out the two-deep across the board.

Will a challenger emerge for Coleman's starting center role? The feeling here is that the answer to that question is a resounding no. But Coleman clearly had the toughest spring of the four projected starters who were able to practice. A major caveat: that says a lot about UW's defensive tackles, who could be dominant this fall.

Coleman was UW's top backup offensive lineman last season. He is capable of playing any position on the offensive line, but he began primarily playing center last season out of necessity. The Badgers needed an heir apparent to Donovan Raiola, and Coleman is it. Coleman's best position is probably guard (or perhaps right tackle) but he can be a very good center if he develops at the position.

Plus, another major question is Coleman's backup. UW will likely try Van Someren there in the fall, and have him compete with Knauf for the No. 2 role.

Looking ahead — The Badgers are understandably eager to see what their five true freshmen scholarship recruits can do in fall camp. Left tackle Jake Bscherer, right tackle Gabe Carimi, center Brad Thorson and guards Bill Nagy and John Moffitt (who could also play defensive tackle) are all headed to Wisconsin as well regarded players, capable of filling spots in the depth.

Ideally, however, offensive linemen redshirt and if UW is comfortable with its veteran depth, that is exactly what all of the true freshman offensive linemen will do.

Guard should not be a problem. Kaye, Weininger and Van Someren can all play the position, and Stehle has the size and athleticism to develop into a capable player there.

Center and tackle are concerns, though. If Van Someren proves that he can snap the ball consistently without a miscue, a sore spot for the Badger centers this spring, then the depth at that position will be fine.

If a freshman emerges at tackle, however, he may be needed. Again, Kaye, Weininger and Van Someren can all play the position, but Weininger and Van Someren are better suited for the interior spots. Kaye can handle either tackle role, but will UW be satisfied at that, or will they want to have another player ready? Bscherer is the most likely candidate, especially since he was recruited to play the one offensive line position — left tackle — that will be occupied by a senior in 2006.

If their collective health holds up, the starting offensive line should be a good one. There will be some growing pains early as young players grow accustomed to their roles. But the Badgers have elite players in Thomas and Urbik and good, if relatively inexperienced, players in Kemp, Vanden Heuvel and Coleman. This line will be huge (6-foot-7, 318 pounds on average), athletic and physical. Not a bad combination.

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