Woods won't fix what isn't broken on line
MADISON, Wis. — T.J. Woods couldn't help but admire Wisconsin's offensive line from afar. When a group of five men averaging 6-foot-5 and 330 pounds continues pushing back defenders from the line of scrimmage year after year and opening gaping holes for running backs, other offensive line coaches across the country take notice.
So when Woods, who coached Utah State's offensive line the past two years, received a call from his former boss, Gary Andersen, with a job offer to take over one of the most tradition-rich position groups in the country, he nearly had to pinch himself. Coaching Wisconsin's offensive line? How could Woods say anything other than yes?
"It didn't take me real long," Woods said last week. "When you've got an opportunity to coach the offensive line at the University of Wisconsin, that's an opportunity of a lifetime ultimately. That's why I'm here.
Woods was one of six new assistant coaches at Wisconsin to be introduced last week. Like the other five, his direct ties to Andersen — hired from Utah State to be the Badgers' head coach on Dec. 21 — helped land him the job. But his talent coaching the position is the ultimate reason for his job offer.
Andersen described Woods as a coach who puts his players first, is tough-minded, consistent and fair — values Andersen certainly shares.
"The way he adapts to schemes, he's on the cutting edge as far as technique, and I believe he's on the cutting edge the way he teaches his techniques," Andersen said. "In practice, as well as his game-time adjustments in his four years he spent with me have been very impressive."
In addition to coaching the offensive line under Andersen the past two seasons, Woods coached the Aggies' tight ends and special teams units during his first two years at the school. Behind Woods' offensive line, Utah State was one of just 19 teams in the country to average at least 200 yards rushing and passing in 2012.
Woods came to Utah State from New Mexico, where he served as an offensive graduate assistant for two seasons. There, he worked with Jason Lenzmeier, who played under former UW offensive line coach Bob Bostad. Woods also helped tutor Bart Miller, Wisconsin's interim offensive line coach in 2012.
"I would say my style is very similar to what the kids in the program now are accustomed to," Woods said. "I think if you look at my history, where I've been, where some of the guys that have coached the offensive line have been, it's pretty similar.
"… Offensive line is the backbone of the team. In my opinion, it's where everything starts. You've got to be the hardest-working group on the field. You've got to be the toughest group on the field. That's our aim."
The task at hand will be gaining the trust of his linemen, who have endured considerable change during their college careers. Woods will be the fourth offensive line coach at Wisconsin in the past two years.
Bostad left following the 2011 season and was replaced by Mike Markuson. But Markuson lasted just two games in 2012 before he was fired because the offensive line didn't generate the push it had grown accustomed to in previous seasons. Former Badgers head coach Bret Bielema then promoted Miller to coach the line.
"They need to know who I am and what I like," Woods said of Wisconsin's linemen. "And I need to know who they are and what their strengths and weaknesses are and go from there."
Wisconsin will lose left tackle Rick Wagner and center Travis Frederick, who opted to enter the NFL draft despite one more year of NCAA eligibility. Most pundits view Frederick as the top center in this year's draft class, and both men will continue Wisconsin's tradition of producing NFL-ready linemen.
Last year, Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz were drafted in the first and second round, respectively. In 2011, Badgers linemen Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt and Bill Nagy were selected in the NFL draft.
Woods said he and Andersen spoke with Frederick in Los Angeles as Wisconsin prepared to play Stanford in the Rose Bowl, but Frederick already had made up his mind to turn pro.
"Obviously, that's a big blow," Woods said. "He's a tremendous player. He's just the next one that's going to go take his talents to the NFL. He's going to do a great job there. I know that."
The Badgers will return three starters on the line from this year's team: left guard Ryan Groy, right tackle Rob Havenstein and right guard Kyle Costigan. Dallas Lewallen and Zac Matthias also got extended playing time this season. So although the cupboard will be missing two key ingredients, it won't be entirely bare.
As far as Woods is concerned, there is plenty of talent within the ranks. And the offensive linemen certainly will have the opportunity to showcase themselves under Woods because the Badgers' pro-style, run-first mentality isn't going to change.
"It's very important and it's fun to be at a school that recognizes that," Woods said, "and that the fan base recognizes that."
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