Wisconsin Badgers beat writer Jesse Temple will be analyzing the 25 most important players to the Badgers’ success in the 2014 season. Check back each weekday to see the latest player on the list. You can find every report here.
Note: This is not a list of the team’s 25 best players or a series about past success, but rather which of them means the most to how Wisconsin will fare this year. Criteria such as depth at that player’s position, general expectations and overall importance of that player having a good season are all highly considered. The list does not include incoming freshmen because their potential impact is unknown at this time.
No. 17 — Tyler Marz, left tackle
Why he’s No. 17
It’s difficult to quantify the importance of offensive linemen because they do not rack up big statistics to allow for comparisons. But if you want something, taking a look at a team’s rushing numbers is usually a pretty good indicator of an offensive line’s overall talent.
Wisconsin set the single-season FBS record for yardage by a 1-2 running back combination last season, with Melvin Gordon and James White gaining 3,053 yards and scoring 25 touchdowns. As a team, the Badgers averaged 6.62 yards per carry, which was second in the nation behind only Ohio State.
Marz (pronounced MARE-its) was a big part of that success. The 6-foot-5, 321-pound redshirt junior slid into the starting left tackle spot after Ryan Groy shifted over to left guard, and the line experienced a seamless transition. Marz impressed enough that he became a consensus honorable mention all-Big Ten player.
He has come a long way over the course of his college career. Marz took a redshirt season in 2011 and traveled with the team because then-offensive line coach Bob Bostad wanted him to gain the experience for later in his career. Then, Bostad left along with several other assistant coaches, and Marz’s push up the ladder stalled. In 2012, he appeared in 10 games, including in Wisconsin’s "barge" package that utilized seven offensive linemen and two tight ends.
Now, he’s one of the most important players on the offensive line.
Expectations for 2014
Marz is no longer a player waiting in the wings that can sit in the background and learn from his elders. That’s how he spent his first two seasons in the program, asking questions of tackle Rick Wagner, a fifth-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2013. Last year, he said he relied on teammates Groy and Rob Havenstein.
If he stays healthy, he should be a dominant force on the line and be an all-conference pick. Marz’s biggest task, however, may be simply taking on more of a leadership role in 2014. He has now appeared in 23 career games with 13 starts, which makes him the third-most experienced offensive lineman on the team behind Havenstein (40 games, 28 starts) and guard Kyle Costigan (28 games, 21 starts). He has more game experience than presumed starters Dallas Lewallen (13 games, seven starts) and Dan Voltz (11 games, six starts).
Wisconsin has become something of an NFL factory for offensive lineman, so there are obviously plenty of talented linemen behind Marz. His job will be to teach them everything he’s learned for the future while maintaining a strong presence as part of a cohesive starting group.
What would they do without him?
Though Wisconsin does possess a dearth of offensive line talent, the Badgers do not have a bunch of players with game experience. Redshirt freshman Hayden Biegel, Marz’s presumed backup, has not taken a snap in a college game. Neither has redshirt sophomore Alex Walker, a converted tight end.
In fact, of the 10 non-starting offensive linemen listed on the spring roster, only three have played in a game: guard Ray Ball (17 games), guard Trent Denlinger (two games) and tackle Walker Williams (one game).
In other words, Wisconsin would be in big trouble if Marz went down with an injury. Wisconsin’s top five on its offensive line is stellar, and offensive line coach T.J. Woods will tell you the depth is much better in Year 2 of the Gary Andersen era. But you can’t put a price on experience, and Marz now has plenty of it.