Friday, December 30, 2011
Wisconsin O-line tradition keeps on rolling
By Brian Bennett
LOS ANGELES -- Outside the Wisconsin locker room is a wall full of plaques honoring the school's All-Americans. Guard Kevin Zeitler walked past that every day last offseason dreaming of hanging his picture up there next to John Moffitt, who earned All-America recognition last year.
Zeitler was lightly recruited until late in his high school career and had never even made an All-Big Ten team. But after an outstanding senior season, he now has his own spot on that wall.
All-American Kevin Zeitler was a member of an O-line that helped Wisconsin lead the Big Ten in scoring.
"We have a lot of pride in our offensive line here, and all of us want to live up to expectations," he said. "And I guess when you live up to expectations, that equals All-Americans."
Churning out offensive line talent may just be the state of Wisconsin's No. 1 industry at this point. Last year, Moffitt and tackle Gabe Carimi were named All-Americans. Both of them and guard Bill Nagy were drafted by the NFL and started as rookies. That exodus would decimate some programs. The Badgers simply reloaded with two more All-Americans in Zeitler and center Peter Konz.
The offensive line has been the program's signature position since the days of Barry Alvarez. While linemen at most schools are an anonymous bunch, the Badgers big fellas become stars, as evidenced by how many interviews the starting linemen gave at Friday's Rose Bowl media day.
"There's just something about that Wisconsin tradition," guard/center Travis Frederick said. "If you're from Wisconsin, you almost want to grow up and be a Wisconsin offensive lineman. And if you get a chance to play at Wisconsin, you take that chance."
The only thing more remarkable about the Badgers size on the line -- the starters measure an average of 6-foot-5 and 322 pounds -- is the fact that every key contributor is from the state of Wisconsin. Whether they were stud recruits like left tackle Josh Oglesby and Konz or a former walk-on like Ricky Wagner who gained 70 pounds after arriving on campus as a tight end, they all seem to develop into some of the best linemen in the country. Maybe it's all that cheese in the Dairy State. Milk apparently does a big body good.
But it's more than just the Scandinavian stock or whatever accounts for all that homegrown size. A standard has been set.
"You look back, and you see Gabe Carimi, and Joe Thomas, both Outland Trophy winners," Konz said. "You've got Chris McIntosh. You've got a lot of guys that you really have to live up to.
"You've got to live up to the strength standards, the weight standards. You've got to live up to the knowledge that they had about the game. We pride ourselves on being extremely smart, understanding blitzes, understanding formations, and really being on target so that we can be as successful as possible."
A major factor in Monday's Rose Bowl will be whether Oregon can handle that offensive line. The Ducks are bigger and better up front defensively than many people think, especially at defensive tackle with Taylor Hard (6-6, 283) and Wade Keliikipi (6-3, 300). Still, outside of Stanford and USC, Oregon isn't used to seeing lines like Wisconsin's. Because there aren't many.
Oregon's defensive players are downplaying any beef disadvantage in the trenches.
"They've got huge offensive linemen just like Stanford," said defensive end Brandon Hanna, whose Ducks have manhandled the Cardinal in recent years. "We're not too worried about that. Size doesn't bother us."
The Rose Bowl will mark the end of an era of sorts for the Wisconsin offensive line, as position coach Bob Bostad is moving on to Pittsburgh to join offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. He oversaw the development of four All-Americans since 2008. Tight ends coach Joe Rudolph will take over the group once Bostad leaves. Rudolph was an All-Big Ten guard for the Badgers.
"He's got a lot of pride in the position because he played it," Zeitler said. "To see what he's done with all the tight ends who've gone on to be All-Americans here, you know he knows how to coach. So it will be a new personality, but I believe the production will stay the same."
The names and faces may change, but Wisconsin keeps adding plaques to the wall.