For years, the Wisconsin Badgers have lived off an identity as a strong, physical running team with monstrous offensive linemen ready to pave the way for whichever running back happened to be standing in the backfield. New head coach Gary Andersen would undoubtedly like to keep that tradition going but faces some unique challenges as he watches his offensive line depth get thinned out by injuries in spring practice.
As the Badgers returned from a hiatus over spring break, Wisconsin had just eight healthy offensive linemen participating in spring practice. They lost one player, redshirt freshman tackle Walker Williams, in a scrimmage right before the break. He watched practice with a brace on his left knee as junior Dallas Lewallen, who had been taking reps with first team at left tackle, failed to finish out the day. Lewallen shouldn’t miss any time, thankfully, as he appeared to go down with leg cramps.
In all, Wisconsin has four offensive linemen that are missing chunks of the spring. In addition to Williams, projected starting right guard Kyle Costigan has been out all spring with a knee injury while redshirt freshman Jake Meador and junior Riki Kodanko went down earlier in the spring. Kodanko is the only one in the group expected to be back quickly this spring after suffering what coaches described as a minor tweak.
Andersen and offensive line coach T.J. Woods haven’t had to deal with such a thin group in spring practice during their years together, but they see it as an opportunity to bring along some younger players and build up depth behind their starting five. Before Lewallen went down in practice, he was on the first until along with senior Ryan Groy, the leader of the offensive line, at left guard, redshirt freshman Dan Voltz at center, senior Zac Matthias at right guard and junior Rob Havenstein at right tackle. The Badgers were also working in former defensive linemen Jacob Ninneman at center and Trent Denlinger at guard.
Woods does not expect to find his starting five for next fall this spring, especially with Costigan being out. What he hopes to find, however, is eight contributors that he feels good about heading into next season. That kind of depth would give the Badgers’ some confidence along their offensive front, but the coaching staff isn’t concerned just yet as Woods told reporters after practice: “If we’ve got five, we’ll be all right.”