Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Spring Game Things to Look For-- Part I

So the UW spring football game is this Saturday afternoon. As a hopeful attendee (unless the woman puts the kaibash on it), it's time to start doing some research so one knows what to look for.
Let's start with the fun stuff-- offense, and in particular the components of the running game. UW looks pretty loaded in that regard. Though the Badgers lost their center, Marcus Coleman, every projected starter on the line started multiple games last season. Plus, the backfield looks ridiculously deep, especially in comparison to last season.

Right now the depth chart on the O-line looks like this:
LT: Gabe Carimi, Jake Bscherer
LG: Andy Kemp, Jake Current
C: John Moffitt, Jake Current
RG: Craig Urbik, Bill Nagy
RT: Eric Vanden Heuvel, Josh Oglesby

Carimi started every game last season and did pretty damn well for a redshirt frosh. He's enormously tall (6'8"), and the lightest and most agile guy on the line. And that's exactly what you want in a left tackle-- huge size and strength, with the rare additional attributes of agility and flexibility. Hopefully, Gabe will continue to improve and get stronger. No one can really replace Thomas, but he did it as well as you could expect an underclassman to.

On the interior, Urbik and Kemp are both solid veterans of multiple seasons, and Moffitt started at right guard for several games last season after Vanden Heuvel got injured. In fact, there was talk of Moffitt bouncing Kemp from the lineup after Vandy returned. Moffitt's addition to the line-up, though he's inexperienced at center, could be viewed as an upgrade over Coleman. (Did anyone see the talk that the team couldn't run shotgun plays last season because Coleman was incapable of snapping the ball properly in that formation? Doesn't that seem totally bizarre.) I was always waiting for Marcus to really impress, and the coaches really seem to like Moffitt. So the performance of the interior should improve, or at the very least, hold steady, barring injuries.

At right tackle, Vandy is enormous, capable, and experienced. He began his career by admirably filling in for Joe Thomas in the Capital One Bowl against Auburn. The next season, he booted Urbik to right guard from right tackle, and has held the RT spot ever since, despite the arrival of talented recruits like Bscherer and Oglesby. This is his senior year, and an All-Big Ten season should be expected out of him, health permitting.

Another notable feature of the line is the talent of the back-up tackles. Bscherer was the top recruit in Wisconsin a few years ago and Oglesby was the top tackle prospect in the nationally '07 class according to some publications. Both those guys are enormous and strong, and should be viewed as capable back-ups in case of injuries to either tackle. Oglesby appears to be the biggest guy on the team, and should be a fun guy to watch at the spring game. He wears number 67.

Unfortunately, you don't see that type of depth on the interior right now. After the starting trio, you have Jake Current, a true freshman as a back-up at both center and left guard, and Bill Nagy, a redshirt sophomore at right guard. Brad Thorson, the previous back-up center, was asked to leave the team and appears to be transferring. (Not sure what events led to this, but the tipping point may have been when Thorson apparently injured a d-lineman in one-on-one drills during spring practices.) Thankfully, there are a couple of solid-looking recruits coming in to provide some depth, including guard prospect Kevin Zeitler of state champs Milwaukee Lutheran.

Anyhow, this is a veteran group. The Badgers' football resurgence from the early 90s on has been founded on excellent offensive line play, which in turn was based on the State's consistent production of high level offensive line prospects. In the team's best years, it harnessed this natural strength and guys like Panos, Raymer, Gibson, McIntosh and Thomas paved the way and protected the quarterback. With a talented and veteran group returning, Badger fans should hope for an excellent year out of the line, and the running game in particular. (More on the backs in a later update.)

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