Death and taxes might be the only things more consistent than the Wisconsin football team’s offensive line in the last 20-plus years.
The faces of the players and the coaches change, but still these five very large men, no matter who they are, continue to open holes and protect the quarterback better than any other group in the nation. This notion may be tested this year, though, as the Badgers have lost three starters from last season: center Peter Konz, guard Kevin Zeitler and tackle Josh Oglesby.
Losing three starters is never good for an offensive line and can cause problems in the following year, but so far, that conventional thinking has not applied to the Badgers’ offensive line.
Last year’s offensive line is an example of that. Despite losing three members to the NFL the year before, new players stepped in and Wisconsin made a repeat appearance in the Rose Bowl. If past experience is any indicator, the Badgers might be in for another berth in Pasadena.
One thing that is different from last year, however, is the man molding these gargantuan men. Offensive line coach Bob Bostad left Madison with former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst to become the offensive coordinator at Pittsburgh, but then took off for the offensive line job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this February.
The man that UW selected to succeed Bostad is former Ole Miss offensive line coach Mike Markuson. Markuson is very experienced, having spent the last 14 years in the SEC under Houston Nutt. Markuson, who was born in Farmington, Minn., said that he was glad to once again be back in the Midwest and working under head coach Bret Bielema.
“I’m a Midwest guy,” Markuson said. “This is my culture, this is my climate, this is where I came from. It’s been great. To be at a storied program like this, with what Wisconsin has done in 20 years, is just amazing. Any coach would want to be here, I promise you.”
While Bostad definitely left a mark on the program and will be missed, the offensive linemen seem to be transitioning well to their new coach and his lively style.
“It’s been good,” junior tackle Casey Dehn said. “He’s really energetic. He gets the heart going right away. He gets us out here and he’s just real upbeat. I think that’s really nice.”
While the coach is different, the talent of the men up front is still there and Markuson can see it.
“Obviously, some of these guys are outstanding players,” Markuson said. “Ricky Wagner is a guy that’s got all the physical tools and the talent that I’ve seen. Ryan [Groy] and Travis [Frederick], they’re still juniors, but certainly those guys have a lot of talent and a lot of ability. It’s always exciting to coach guys like that who want to be good, that want to work at it, that want to get coached. These guys are champions, they know what it’s like to win.”
Getting those kinds of compliments means a lot coming from a coach like Markuson, as he coached NFL stars like Michael Oher, Shawn Andrews and Jason Peters during his time at Arkansas and Ole Miss.
Wagner, Groy and Frederick are locks to start as of right now with Wagner resuming his place at left tackle for the upcoming season, with the junior Groy taking over the left guard spot and fellow junior Frederick moving over from the left guard spot to take over for Peter Konz at center.
Starting spots on the right side of the Badgers’ offensive line are still up for grabs, but as of right now the leaders appear to be redshirt senior Rob Burge at right guard and Dehn at right tackle. That could change when redshirt sophomore Dallas Lewallen and redshirt sophomore Rob Havenstein return from their injuries later this year, but for now that is the way Markuson is leaning.
One name to look out for this year and in the years to come is freshman Dan Voltz. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound Voltz graduated high school in Barrington, Ill. early to come to spring practice in Madison this year, and according to Markuson, he is already tearing it up.
“What a great sign for Wisconsin. Outstanding player, tough, tries to be physical every play, cares, a gritty guy, he’s the Full Monty package, he really is,” Markuson said of Voltz. “I love him. Is he ready yet? Probably not, but he brings it all to the practice field, to the meeting room and everything he does. For a guy that should still be walking the halls at Barrington High School, he’s done outstanding and he’ll do nothing but get better.”
Voltz is currently practicing at the number two center position, but if he continues to improve and if there is not much production out of the right guard spot, don’t be surprised if he gets a shot there.