This is the sixth in a series of 12 previews leading up to the start of fall camp for the Wisconsin football team. For more, check out the previous previews and come back to Land of 10 throughout the week.
July 17: Offensive linemen
July 18: Defensive linemen
July 19: Inside linebackers
July 20: Outside linebackers
July 21: Cornerbacks
July 22: Safeties
July 23: Specialists
Today’s position: Offensive line
Rating (1-to-10 scale): 8
Projected starters: Left tackle David Edwards (redshirt sophomore), left guard Jon Dietzen (redshirt sophomore), center Michael Deiter (redshirt junior), right guard Beau Benzschawel (redshirt junior), right tackle Jacob Maxwell (redshirt junior)
Key backups: Cole Van Lanen (redshirt freshman), David Moorman (redshirt sophomore), Patrick Kasl (redshirt freshman), Micah Kapoi (redshirt junior), Brett Connors (redshirt junior), Tyler Biadasz (redshirt freshman)
The breakdown: Wisconsin returns four of its five starters off an 11-3, Cotton Bowl-winning team. This is a unit that should dominate in the way most Badgers fans have grown accustomed to over the years. Deiter is the unquestioned leader here, having started all 27 games over the past two seasons. The projected starting lineup has combined to play in 90 games with 74 starts. And that number doesn’t include backup Kapoi, who has played in 25 games with 12 starts.
Wisconsin’s offensive line has improved substantially after many players were forced to play earlier in their careers in 2015 because of injuries or attrition. That offense struggled to rush the ball for several reasons, including an injury to tailback Corey Clement and an inexperienced line. But players such as Deiter, Kapoi, Benzschawel and Maxwell emerged as far better linemen. They all are hardened upperclassmen now. Benzschawel has played in 22 games with 22 starts and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last season from the league’s coaches. Maxwell has appeared in 18 games with 10 starts.
The most intriguing change in 2017 comes at left tackle, where Edwards will try to replace the production of Ryan Ramczyk. That is a tough task because Ramczyk was one of the best offensive linemen in college football last season. Pro Football Focus graded Ramczyk as the best run-blocker among any FBS tackle. He allowed only 1 sack and 8 total pressures over 14 games and was taken in the first round of the NFL draft in April by the New Orleans Saints.
Edwards’ ascension has been remarkably fast at Wisconsin. He played quarterback in high school but entered the Badgers’ program as a 6-foot-7, 239-pound tight end. Before fall camp in 2016, coaches moved him to the offensive line and he gained nearly 50 pounds. Edwards was listed at 306 pounds on Wisconsin’s spring football roster and continues to add bulk. Last season, Edwards played in 13 games and made 7 starts at right tackle. His performance led coaches to name him the starting left tackle before spring practice even began.
Wisconsin has built up its depth with upperclassmen Kapoi and Connors. And there are several young players waiting their turn, particularly Kasl and Biadasz. All four players should challenge for playing time and even could edge out one of the presumed starters by the time fall camp is finished.
In other words, Wisconsin fans should feel plenty good about the offensive line.
Best position battle: Even though we have a projected group of starters on the offensive line, the only player absolutely guaranteed a starting spot is Deiter. That’s how much players are pushing for reps. Kasl earned valuable practice time at right tackle this spring with Maxwell sidelined by a shoulder injury. Kapoi and Dietzen will battle for snaps at left guard. Connors played in all 14 games last season and made 4 starts at center. And Biadasz was excellent at center this spring, which allowed Deiter to move over to left guard. There is still plenty to be determined about who starts and how often each man plays.
Paul Chryst, on moving Edwards to left tackle during spring practice: “You’ve got to get your five best players out there. I really liked a lot of things David did last year, and so I think it’s a combination of David and then making sure you’ve got the depth balance. … Certainly, he was on the right side and felt comfortable. Spring’s a really good time to try something a little bit different for him. We’ll see where it all ends up. But I think that’s the thought behind it.”