Fall Camp Preview: Offensive Line

Gabe Carimi (Matt Fleming/File)

As the calendar turns to August, the countdown to Wisconsin's 2010 football season has officially begun. Between now and the start of camp on August 9th, Badger Nation will extensively breakdown every position. Today, we examine the offensive line, a position that returns five starters and a lot of experience to open up the holes for John Clay and Company.

MADISON - All the Advil Offensive Line Coach Bob Bostad had to pop last season apparently was worth it.

While all the juggling Bostad had to do last season might have caused a migraine and unique line configurations at the time, the benefits of doing so have created a wealth of depth for the Badgers heading into the 2010 football season.

Not only does Wisconsin return all five starters, they have created depth after using six different combinations and seven different players used to fill out a starting lineup. So, how good can these guys be?

"It depends on how hard we attack it," senior left tackle Gabe Carimi said. "We can be good. We can be bad. It's all about our mentality. We have the capability of being good, which is really promising, but as long as we have the leaders to bring it through, we can do that."

Undeniably, one of those leaders is Carimi. A first-team All-Big Ten selection last season, Carimi has started 36 games the last three seasons but admitted to playing 75 percent most of last season while dealing with nagging knee and shoulder injuries, including playing through a dislocated kneecap early in the Champs Sports Bowl.

"If I am able to play fully healthy, we'll have one solid side of the offensive line for sure," Carimi said. "I'll be able to call blitzes and handle my guys."

The other guy on Carimi's side he was referring to was senior John Moffitt, a first-team Big Ten selection last year despite missing the team's first three games last season after a freak chest injury sustained in the weight room. Although missing most of spring recovering from hernia surgery, Moffitt brings a unique versatility to the group, starting 15 games at center and 14 at left guard over his career.

Next to those seniors, the most veteran athlete is junior right tackle Josh Oglesby. Continuing to make strides after a late-season knee injury cost him three games, Oglesby, a five-star prospect and the top offensive tackle in the 2007 recruiting class by Scout.com, has appeared in 23 games the last two seasons with 13 starts at the right tackle position.

He seems to have a good grip on the right tackle position, but was not immune to the harsh comments laid out by his head coach after the spring game when Bret Bielema said he, ‘isn't close to being where he needs to be as a right tackle to win in this league with consistency.'

Four months later, Bielema referred back to those comments.

"I had some conversations with him (and) he's had a good of summer as I have ever seen him have," Bielema said. "He looks good. I know he's had kids respect what he has done. I feel like I have been around Josh as long as everybody because I started recruiting him when he was so young. He went past a lot of people to come to our place and I just want to see him achieve the highest level of success because he is so talented."

The biggest question mark on the offensive line is which two players from a pool of four are going to start at center and right guard.

Sophomore Travis Frederick because the first true freshman in school history to start his first game on the offensive line when he played center, but an ankle injury early in the second game kept him in reserve in favor of sophomore Peter Konz, who started at center for nine games. Konz in versatile enough to play all three line positions, but was removed from contact due to taking blood thinners to fix a blood clot issue that surfaced prior to the final regular-season game at Hawaii.

Konz missed the entire spring, but is now 100 percent cleared for contact, and has Bostad, according to Bielema, favoring him at center.

"We have three or four or five guys competing for three spots, so that's going to bring a lot of competition," Frederick said. "I think that's when you are getting the biggest gains, because you are competing and getting ready to go."

Right guard Kevin Zeitler started all 13 games last season and has been lauded by being able to play anywhere on the offensive line. Pushing Zeitler for what was once his starting spot is senior Bill Nagy, who played sparingly last season after being struck by a car while on driving his moped last July. Working with the No. 1 offensive line at left guard, Nagy will be involved in the mix.

Although the Badgers have six players with starting experience, the upperclassmen recognize that depth brewing behind them. When asked, Carimi and Nagy were quick to identify more than a couple horses in the race, commenting that sophomore Ryan Groy and redshirt freshman Zac Matthias could be two of the strongest linemen in the program and junior Jake Current, who is currently the backup center, can also play guard.

Bielema also commented that sophomore Casey Dehn and junior Ricky Wagner have made unbelievable gains during summer conditioning.

"Once they get their feet and technique down to be able to use that squat, they are going to be able to crush people," Carimi said. "Right now, they don't quite understand the plays and be able to read a defense and guess, there's a lot of guessing right away because you don't understand it. It's not a guessing game once you see it and understand it. Once they get it, they'll be great here."

Just like a season ago, depth and success should not be a problem in the trenches for the Badgers.

The likely scenario

If I had to bet the house, the starting line from last season – Carimi, Moffitt, Konz, Zeitler and Oglesby – would be the same five that start the 2010 season. Rumors, however, have speculated otherwise. According to one player, Bostad likes to reward hard-working seniors, meaning Nagy. If Nagy has a good fall camp, he could be the starting right guard in the season opener September 4 at UNLV, no matter how good Zeitler plays.

Other indications is that Oglesby isn't guaranteed the starting role, especially with the rapid progress of Wagner, who made significant strides in the spring and, according to Bielema, this summer in the weight room and conditioning.

"I just want to make sure we have our five best guys in there, including the tackle position," Bielema said.

With an offense that is pretty well set at all the skill positions, the battle for playing time on the right side of the offensive line will be the thing to watch.

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