Wisconsin and No. 5 LSU in transition in the trenches
MADISON, Wis. (AP) Wisconsin and LSU are teams in transition in the trenches.
The Badgers could start the season with four sophomores and a new left tackle up front on Saturday. The fifth-ranked Tigers will debut with two new tackles blocking for Heisman Trophy hopeful Leonard Fournette.
There is no grace period this weekend when the teams meet in the high-profile opener at Lambeau Field, home of the NFL's Green Bay Packers.
''I like where we're at with the cards that we've been handed,'' Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said about the chemistry on his offensive line. ''We've got to still keep going.''
It's unusual to have questions about the front five at Wisconsin, historically a factory for producing quality linemen. The line is the engine that powers the running game, another Wisconsin staple.
The rushing attack is a strength once again with home-run threat Corey Clement complemented by fellow senior and all-around back Dare Ogunbowale.
But how far they go may in large part depend on whether the young line can build on an inconsistent and injury-plagued 2015 season. Wisconsin took another hit in training camp when senior anchor Dan Voltz decided to retire because of injuries.
There is no other senior on the depth chart.
The Badgers do have Ryan Ramczyk, a junior college transfer slated to start at left tackle. Ramczyk has received raves in practice, though he has never faced an FBS opponent, let alone an SEC defense.
''Even if they had been in every practice this fall camp, didn't think we'd get to that point that we'd arrive,'' Chryst said. ''But I do like the way (the line) has been approaching it ... continual improvement.''
They must block for a quarterback, senior Bart Houston, who will be making his first career start. At the least, the four sophomores who could join Ramczyk in the starting five each played extensively in 2015.
''I think we're right where we need to be ... especially after last season,'' center Michael Deiter said. ''I think the chemistry's there. We've all played with each other so many reps, that it just really isn't a big deal anymore.''
The Tigers' new starting tackles are just plain big, with 6-foot-5, 302-pound sophomore Toby Weathersby on the right side and 6-4, 303-pound junior K.J. Malone on the left. Malone is the son of NBA Hall of Fame forward Karl Malone.
Weathersby was expected to open the season as a backup, but Maea Teuhema was limited by a sprained ankle in camp and is listed as the backup tackle on both sides.
''He's not limited in any way and we're ready to roll. The good news is it ensures that we will have real quality tackles,'' LSU coach Les Miles said.
Senior Josh Boutte won the right guard job that opened when Teuhema moved to tackle. The only two linemen in the same spot as last season are senior center Ethan Pocic and sophomore left guard Will Clapp.
''I trust them,'' Fournette said. ''Throughout the duration of camp, they did one heck of a job blocking for me and protecting'' quarterback Brandon Harris.
Blocking Vince Biegel and the rest of Wisconsin's athletic linebacker corps won't be as easy.
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, contributed to this story.
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