April 24, 2009

Post spring camp: Offensive line

MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin offensive line coach Bob Bostad was quick to state the inexperience of his position when asked about replacing three solid contributors from a season ago.

"We've got two guys that have any experience," Bostad said. "That's it."

Bostad, of course, is referring to John Moffitt at center and Gabe Carimi at left tackle. Other than those two all Big Ten caliber performers, the UW line will see plenty of new faces this season.

Following spring camp, we now have a better sense of where players stand after some switching of positions.

To start, Jake Bscherer coming off a redshirt season, looks to hold down the starting spot at left guard. Bscherer came onto campus as a highly touted left tackle prospect, but after getting surpassed by Carimi earlier, it made sense for the junior to relocate on the offensive line.

Now, after a full 15 practices at left guard, Bscherer seems to be gaining confidence at the position.

"My freshman year I actually played left guard for four or five weeks so I had a little taste of that," Bscherer said. "It is a hard transition, but I had a little taste of it. Being older, I kind of have a good sense of what to do as far as responsibilities at any position.

"So it wasn't bad."

At right guard, Bill Nagy performed at a consistent level throughout spring. He seems to have a solid hold on the position heading into August's training camp. He plays a physical brand of guard and is not afraid to get his nose dirty when trying to prevent opposing rushers.

Perhaps the most controversy, if you can call it that, surrounded right tackle Josh Oglesby. As one of the most touted in-state recruits in recent memory, Oglesby went through his stretch of growing pains both last fall and throughout this spring.

One of the major critiques of Oglesby is his personality. He is a fun loving, happy-go-lucky type that is fine off the field, but often leads to too much passivity on it. At points during spring, he did not practice with the fierceness needed at that position.

When Oglesby gets mad and angry, he becomes a force on the offensive line. But when he is simply going through the motions, he struggles.

"I guess it's difficult for me because I've never had to have it," Oglesby said when asked about playing with more intensity. "I've always been the biggest and strongest in high school and things like that."

At one point during camp, Peter Konz replaced Oglesby after he struggled through a practice. Apparently the demotion worked because Oglesby responded with one of his best practices as a Badger the next time UW took the field. He remained with the starting squad the rest of spring ball.

"(It's) just playing with that pissed off mentality," Oglesby said. "Not pissed at the coaches, but pissed at myself for letting it happen."

Konz, who worked to hone his assignments this spring, performed at a high level. He was back-and-forth with Oglesby at points during the 15 allotted practices and seems to be a player that can push Oglesby to continually perform at a high level.

He is still a young player, but his development has greatly improved over his first year on campus.

"A world of difference," Konz said when asked about his game now as compared to last fall. "Obviously being on scout team, I got all the work in with the first d last year so that just helped with my basic technique with footwork (and) where to place my hands."

Kevin Zeitler also opened eyes backing up Bscherer at left guard. He is a strong kid with decent footwork for this time in his development. He likely won't surpass Bscherer on the depth chart, but his presence will keep Bscherer on top of his game throughout the season.

Jake Current, who practiced all spring after undergoing off-season surgery had a good spring. Current never lacks intensity and plays every snap like it is his last. He also plays to the whistle even if the back is 10 yards downfield or on the other side of the field. Last season he saw time in the jumbo units, and that will likely be his role again this season.

Finally, as an early enrollee, Travis Frederick made some progress this spring. He is an incredibly smart player and seemingly quick learner. This spring season will do nothing but advance his progression at a quicker rate.

Then one of the more intriguing prospects is Ricky Wagner. He came in as a tight end prospect, but 60 added pounds later, Wagner currently finds himself as a backup to Carimi at left tackle.

Prediction:

At the conclusion of spring ball, it seemed the line was pretty much set. Following a mid-spring slump where, Oglesby rounded back into form and stuck with the starters for the remainder of camp. The line, like usual will be one of leagues biggest. But it will also have to replace plenty of talent from last season's team. Still, although relatively young and inexperienced, the potential is there for this unit to succeed.

"I think the sky is the limit," Bscherer said. "We're definitely all making a lot of gains and I definitely give all the credit in the world to coach Bostad because he's a great coach. I really feel like we're all getting better and I think, like I said, the sky is the limit.

"It can really be a good cohesive unit."

Projected Depth Chart:

Left Tackle:

Josh Oglesby, SO.
Peter Konz, FR.

Left Guard:

Bill Nagy, JR.
Travis Frederick, FR.
Jordan Bergmann, FR.

Center:

John Moffitt, JR.
Jake Current, SO.

Right Guard:

Jake Bscherer, JR.
Kevin Zeitler, FR.
Joe Schafer, FR.
Chris Cromwell, FR.

Right Tackle:

Gabe Carimi, JR.
Joe Shafer, FR.
Ricky Wagner, FR.

As compared to this time last year:

At the conclusion of spring practice in 2008, the offensive line seemed to be poised for great things. With Kraig Urbik, Eric VandenHeuval and Andy Kemp all coming back to join Moffitt and Carimi, the line had plenty of veterans to mix in with the young guys.

This season, there is no senior leadership and the line is relatively young and inexperienced as a whole. Moffitt and Carimi have the most game experience and while Oglesby played quite a bit last season, he still have plenty of gains that need to be made.

The final verdict:

This line has all the parts needed to be successful. They will be one of the Big Ten's biggest again in 2009, but until that game experience starts adding up, there will likely be some growing pains.

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