Wisconsin's O-line expected to be strong again
Wisconsin lost nearly 1,000 pounds and the entire left side of its award-winning offensive line in the offseason.
No matter. Safety Aaron Henry sees little difference in this year's group in spring practice.
''If it has changed, I haven't noticed it,'' he said. ''We lost two All-Americans last year, and I can't tell. These guys have definitely stepped up and have been playing the whole time. These guys have been giving us a tremendous look and I'm definitely excited about the season for them.''
Henry will also be happy to see the Badgers' beefy line face someone other than the defense this fall even after Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi at left tackle and All-American left guard John Moffitt graduated, along with versatile fill-in Bill Nagy.
Henry said spring practice has been no fun when the linemen get past the front four on defense.
''I guess I can sum it up in one word: It's hell,'' Henry said. ''Our linemen are so freaking athletic, it's just kind of crazy because you try to put a move on them and they move with you.''
Wisconsin returns potent running backs Montee Ball and James White, who combined for 2,048 yards and 32 touchdowns last season.
They'll run behind a group that's still competing for roles, but will include Ricky Wagner at Carimi's spot and right guard Kevin Zeitler, the most experienced lineman remaining with 22 starts.
Sophomore Travis Frederick has the inside track to start at left guard, Peter Konz will be back at center if he can put aside lingering injuries, including a high ankle sprain and minor knee surgery. There will competition at right tackle between Josh Oglesby, Robert Burge and Casey Dehn.
Coach Bret Bielema said the positive thing about his group returning is that six players already have starting experience. Another lineman, Ryan Groy, made two starts at fullback.
But the experience doesn't stop there.
Bielema said many former linemen now in the NFL have been working out on campus in Madison during the lockout, including Browns left tackle and 2007 Outland Trophy winner Joe Thomas. He said their presence and professionalism is a positive influence on his players.
''To see the tradition they have and to know our guys want to uphold that tradition is the easiest thing to make those guys go,'' the coach said.
Wagner made the biggest improvement last season from the bench to starting right tackle to heir apparent on the left side.
''He's handled that transition pretty good. I told him he had big shoes to fill,'' Bielema said. ''The only two left tackles that have started in this program since I've been here have won the Outland Trophy.''
The Badgers do have questions after their 11-2 season ended with a Rose Bowl loss to TCU. The biggest holes besides the line appear to be the losses of quarterback Scott Tolzien, running back John Clay and tight end Lance Kendricks.
Bielema is excited about the competition at quarterback that includes Jon Budmayr, Curt Phillips, Joe Brennan and Joel Stave, though none have what Tolzien did during his two years as a starter: experience.
''I know he really learned from those losses ... a lot of it was learning how to deal with adversity,'' Bielema said of Tolzien. ''I think young quarterbacks because, they've always been that confident guy, that guy everybody looks to and respects, any time they have a little bit of adversity, it's always tough to overcome, but that's what experience and age will bring you.''