The offensive line always seems to be a position of strength for the Badgers, and 2011 is no exception. In fact, this season’s group might be the best the Badgers have had in quite some time, even though they’ll be replacing left tackle Gabe Carimi and left guard John Moffitt, who combined for 91 starts and were decorated with awards during their time at UW. Montee Ball and James White get all the headlines, but sometimes, Wisconsin’s offensive line blocks so well it seems like the Badgers could line up anyone at tailback and have success on the ground. As a team, the Badgers averaged 5.5 yards per rush last season, seventh in the nation, and these guys were a big reason why:
LT Ricky Wagner, redshirt junior
6’6″, 320 pounds
RT Josh Oglesby, redshirt senior
6’7″, 330 pounds
If these two stay healthy, they could be the best tandem of tackles in the Big Ten. Wagner, a former walk-on tight end, seems to be a natural fit on the left side because of his athleticism. He started eight games at right tackle last year, and although some were concerned he wouldn’t have enough brute strength to play the position, he impressed and was a consensus honorable mention all-Big Ten selection. Mel Kiper rated him as the fourth-best junior tackle in the nation (in terms of NFL potential). I think the move to the left side will only make him better. Wagner will be very good this season and may contend for the Outland Trophy if he sticks around in 2012.
Oglesby’s story has been a curious one. He was the highest rated offensive lineman and No. 10 overall prospect (as rated by Rivals.com) in the high school class of 2007. He redshirted his first season on campus, but struggled to stay on the field due to knee injuries and inconsistency, starting only fifteen games in the next three season, 10 of which came during his sophomore season. He was recovering from a torn ACL in the spring, leaving the door open to gargantuan underclassman Rob Havenstein (see below), who Oglesby will have to beat out for the starting spot. If he can’t stay on the field or is limited, Oglesby’s already disappointing UW career will come to an anticlimactic finish and he will be replaced. If he does finally live up to his once-towering potential, he could be one of the best run blockers in the nation this season.
LG Travis Frederick, redshirt sophomore
6’4″, 330 pounds
RG Kevin Zeitler, senior
6’4″, 315 pounds
Both of these two have plenty of experience and will likely be unchallenged for their spots. Zeitler will be entering his third season as a starter, having started all thirteen games as a sophomore and nine more last season (Bill Nagy, who had just recovered from injuries suffered in a moped crash, stole some of his playing time in 2010). He’s not a flashy player, but he seems to do everything well. Furthermore, Kiper has him rated as the top senior guard in the country.
Frederick was the first true freshman offensive lineman in Wisconsin football history to start the season opener when he began the 2009 season at center. However, he was injured the following week and started only three more games that season. Frederick redshirted last season because of the overabundance of interior linemen that were healthy, but he appears to have already wrapped up the starting job at left guard for 2011.
C Peter Konz, redshirt junior
6’5″, 315 pounds
With 20 starts to his name, Konz is the second most experienced Badger lineman behind Zeitler. He’s a contender for the Rimington award and was named the top junior center in the country by Mel Kiper. Russell Wilson should have no trouble coordinating the offensive line with the help of an experienced anchor like Konz.
OT Rob Havenstein, redshirt freshman
6’8″, 345 pounds
OT Casey Dehn, reshirt sophomore
6’6″, 335 pounds
The only position that appears to not be locked down on the offensive line is right tackle. If Oglesby can’t get past his latest knee injury or struggles in pass protection, he could be replaced by Havenstein or Dehn. By most accounts, Havenstein was impressive when he got his chance to work at right tackle with the first team in the spring, so he seems most likely to break into the starter’s role if Oglesby can’t. He’s got plenty of size and no one will question is strength, but opposing teams may try to take advantage of these facts by using speed against him.