April 22, 2010

Post spring camp: Offensive line

MADISON - Offensive line coach Bob Bostad is a firm believer in versatility. And with the way things have gone over the past year with the offensive line, it's essential that he models his coaching after that concept.

Following a season that featured major movement around the offensive line on multiple occasions, particularly early in the season, the position entered spring camp nicked up yet again.

To start the 15 allotted practices, Gabe Carimi (knee), John Moffitt (hernia) and Peter Konz (blood clots) were all sidelined. Carimi and Moffitt eventually returned to practice, but not until midway through (Carimi) and the final week respectively, and Konz was forced to sit out the entirety of camp.

While one never wants to see another player get injured, it gave the UW offensive line another chance to develop depth and versatility that not many lines throughout the Big Ten can compare.

To open camp, Ricky Wagner was situated at left tackle, Bill Nagy worked left guard, Travis Frederick and Jake Current took reps at center, Kevin Zeitler steadied the right guard spot and Josh Oglesby anchored the right tackle position.

By the time Moffitt and Carimi returned, the offensive line had approximately eight players that could legitimately start. Should fall camp come around and present more injury problems, the line should be fine with that depth.

"He (Bostad) makes sure that we don't get comfortable at one position unless you're like a fifth year senior (and been there)," Konz said. "He wants us going from center to guard, tackle to guard, always more than once. Not only does that make you a better football player, but it makes it easier to get on the field and more valuable as a player."

Individually, Carimi proved he was the best player on a very, very good line when he returned prior to spring break. He is dominant, assertive, strong and relentless at the point of attack. When he is on, there aren't many people in college football better than him at his position. The UW offensive line will go as he goes.

One of the more surprising moments of spring camp, though, is related to the tackle opposite Carimi. Following he spring game, head coach Bret Bielema singled Oglesby out and demanded the junior tackle to take the summer to make himself better.

"Josh Oglesby isn't close to where he needs to be as a right tackle to win in this league with consistency," Bielema said after the spring game. "I know he's going to take it upon himself."

There were times during spring camp that Oglesby looked to be rather feisty. It seemed as though he was turning the corner and becoming more of the physical force everyone expected him to be coming in as a highly touted freshman.

For now, at least in April, there is still time for Oglesby to focus himself and get better leading into fall camp. What a difference a dominant Oglesby could mean for a line that is already pretty stacked on paper.

Inside, Kevin Zeitler continued to impress at right guard. He is everything an offensive lineman should be. He plays every down like it's a critical third and short situation late in a Big Ten conference game. He is tenacious and downright mean. He bullies opponents and doesn't let up until the whistle blows. As a right tackle, he has everything needed to become one of the better players in the league.

"My mindset is just to keep going and don't make mistakes," Zeitler said. "Just keep going the entire game and do your assignment and run people over. Make it as big of a hole as you can."

Bill Nagy made it through the entirety of spring camp after missing most of last season while recovering from a foot injury suffered in a moped accident. While he was admittedly rusty and not quite 100 percent, it was encouraging to see him practice each and every day without missing time. He offers great experience and depth to a line that could be the biggest asset in an otherwise loaded offense.

At center, both Frederick and Current seemed to make strides. Remember, Frederick started UW's first two games a season ago before going down with an injured ankle in the second game of the year. He proved he was a capable player and is built upon that foundation this spring while Konz was out.

Behind him, Current, who has only gotten better throughout his career at UW, was seemingly making a move at catching up to Frederick. That will be an interesting position to watch in fall camp when Frederick, Konz and Current are all in practice and battling for playing time.

One of the more intriguing prospects during the spring was Ricky Wagner. After adding more than 60 pounds to his frame while transitioning to the tackle position, it seems as though Wagner is one of the more important backups at any position on the UW roster.

Should Carimi, who was banged up at times a year ago, or Oglesby go down with an injury, Wagner will fill in. Wagner still has some time to improve his craft, which can surely be utilized. At times during camp, J.J. Watt got the best of the young tackle at times.

Finally, players that aren't necessarily factoring into the rotation yet, have also been impressive throughout the season. Players such as Casey Dehn, Ryan Groy and Zac Matthias have not gone unnoticed.

"I think they're understanding the playbook better," Zeitler said. "Spring ball is a better chance for you to pop in and for younger guys to get to know the playbook. You can definitely see improvement."

In short, the UW offensive line truly has a chance to be great. Perhaps what is the most encouraging aspect of that comment is the fact that the players comprising the unit realize nothing is handed to them.

"If everyone keeps working and everyone gets their job done it could be a very good line," Zeitler said. "We've just got to keep working every day and not get satisfied and listen to coach Bostad.

"We'll see how it goes."

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