Badgers positional preview: Offensive line

The Badgers offensive line, from left to right: Tyler Marz (redshirt junior), left guard Dallas Lewallen (redshirt senior), center Dan Voltz (redshirt sophomore), right guard Kyle Costigan (redshirt senior) and right tackle Rob Havenstein (redshirt senior)

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This is the fifth in a series of 11 previews leading up to the Wisconsin football team’s Aug. 4 start of practice. You can find the entire series here.

Today’s position: offensive line

Rating (1-to-10 scale): 9

Projected starters: left tackle Tyler Marz (redshirt junior), left guard Dallas Lewallen (redshirt senior), center Dan Voltz (redshirt sophomore), right guard Kyle Costigan (redshirt senior), right tackle Rob Havenstein (redshirt senior)

Key backups: Tackle Jaden Gault (freshman), tackle Walker Williams (redshirt sophomore), guard Ray Ball (redshirt junior), center Michael Dieter (freshman)

The breakdown: Here’s something you’ve probably heard a few times in the past decade or so: Offensive line play will be one of Wisconsin’s greatest strengths next season. Not that Badgers fans, who take great pride in their line, will ever get tired of hearing it.

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Wisconsin’s projected starters have played in a combined 115 games with 67 starts. And this year’s unit will be led by three fifth-year seniors (Dallas Lewallen, Kyle Costigan and Rob Havenstein) who have seen just about everything college football has to offer. Havenstein, a second-team all-Big Ten pick by the media last season, is in line to be first-team all-conference this season. His 40 games played and 28 starts are more than any other player on the team.

The only starter Wisconsin loses from last year’s team is left guard Ryan Groy, and though it’s a big hole to fill, it is not a crippling departure. Dallas Lewallen should be able to slide over and play well in place of Groy, though he and Dan Voltz could flip-flop on center and guard play.

When you consider last year’s 1-2 rushing tandem of James White and Melvin Gordon set the single-season FBS record for combined rushing yards with 3,053 and you then consider Gordon and Corey Clement could be just as good, it should warm the hearts of Badgers fans. With yet another stellar offensive line, Wisconsin should maul opponents up front and create plenty of holes for highlight-reel plays from Gordon and Clement.

Best position battle: There has yet to be an official word on where Voltz and Lewallen will wind up for the 2014 season. Both players sat out of spring practice while recovering from injuries. That provided young players like Michael Dieter and Trent Denlinger with opportunities to earn significant reps. Still, Voltz and Lewallen are starters. We just won’t know officially which player is the center and which is the guard until August.

Best of the Big Ten: 1. Wisconsin; 2. Iowa; 3. Indiana

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Based on experience and sheer success in the ground game, Wisconsin earns the top spot here. Havenstein and Marz are two of the best bookends on the offensive line you’ll see in the Big Ten.

Iowa is second on the list, primarily because of left tackle Brandon Scherff and center Austin Blythe. Scherff, a first-team all-Big Ten pick, bypassed the NFL Draft in December. Blythe was an honorable mention all-conference pick. Jordan Walsh is another experienced player who started 13 games last season, and Andrew Donnal will be in the mix as well. The Hawkeyes ran the ball more last season than in any of the 15 seasons under coach Kirk Ferentz, and the line’s power was one of the reasons.

Indiana, meanwhile, returns all of its starters on the offensive line, which total a combined 130 career starts. Left tackle Jason Spriggs received honorable mention all-Big Ten and has made 24 consecutive starts at the position.

Offensive line coach T.J. Woods says: "Last year, we made it by with seven deep and not very many offensive linemen in the program. They did a great job. They’re a tough group and well coached. So we were very fortunate. But we’ve got to solidify depth in that position and then hopefully some of those (young) guys are going to have to be second teamers. Those guys are getting off the bus."

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