MADISON - There's nothing like a healthy front five to really boost the confidence of an offense.
With the Badgers expected to run the ball more than ever this season with four capable running backs in the backfield and, as of right now, shaky play from the receivers, Wisconsin's veteran core of tackles and guards got through camp with no injuries and spent the whole spring developing a chemistry that already was solid to begin with.
"It feels like we've been playing together for ever," senior guard Andy Kemp said. "This is a great group of guys to have with you in the trenches."
Throughout camp, head coach Bret Bielema singled out the three seniors - left guard Andy Kemp, right guard Kraig Urbik and right tackle Eric Vanden Heuvel – about how they have elevated their level of play heading into their final collegiate season, especially Kemp, who Bielema went out of his way to point out after the April 15 practice.
"The guy that I have been really impressed with his Andy Kemp," Bielema said. "Just from the standpoint he's doing a great job of mentally handling his football but he's trying to give us a little bit more in leadership. He's a guy that I've seen make a really big jump."
The reinforcement for Vanden Heuvel could not have come at a better time for the Hudson (WI) native. Missing the second half of last season with a leg injury, Vanden Heuvel had one of his most consistent camps of his career with freshman giant Josh Oglesby nipping at his heels. Vanden Heuvel looked well rested, healthy, stronger and showed no signs of the injury that cost him a handful of games last season.
As mentioned before, Oglesby, who now stands at 338 pounds, is a behemoth and is fully recovered from the ACL tear that cost him his high school senior season. Oglesby saw plenty of reps at the second team, learning both his natural right tackle position and some at left tackle in hopes of expanding his horizons. After getting beat off the end a couple times in pass protection, Oglesby became quicker with his first step, able to fend off charging defensive ends. But in order for Oglesby to overtake Vanden Heuvel at right tackle, his pass protection will have to continue to improve.
"I have to get better in a lot of areas," Oglesby said. "Obviously, my pass protection has been my biggest pitfall ever since I was high school. Our high school never really threw the ball so I never had many reps at it. That's what I have been trying to work on that the most."
Sophomore John Moffitt stepped in nicely for graduate Marcus Coleman at center and has added a new dynamic to the offense. By being able to success long snap the football, Moffitt is allowing Wisconsin to run plays from the shotgun formation, making the offense more versatile.
"Quite honestly, one of the reasons we didn't do shotgun last year was because it really didn't fit what we were able to do from a snap standpoint," Bielema said. "This year, John's really been concentrating on that during the off-season with the quarterbacks and it's something we'll be able to bring to the game."
The only problem Wisconsin encountered on the offensive line was the transfer of sophomore Brad Thorson, who was engaged in a one-on-one tangle with junior-college recruit Dan Moore, causing Moore to seriously injure his knee. Thorson apparently was too physical after the whistle, causing the injury, and was asked by the coaching staff to transfer from the program.
Player of Camp: John Moffitt
Projected Starters: Gabe Carimi (left tackle), Andy Kemp (left guard), John Moffitt (center), Kraig Urbik (right guard), Eric Vanden Heuvel (right tackle).