Wisconsin Football: Offensive Line Can't Keep Losing Projected Starters
The Bret Bielema-era Wisconsin program is one of the most fearsome Big Ten teams in quite some time, and it's easy to see why. The offensive is, at its core, essentially predictable...and still nearly unstoppable.
It certainly helps that Wisconsin boasts a strong set of skill position players, but what really sets the offense apart and minimizes the amount of trickery needed to get the ball moving is the offensive line. Year after year, Wisconsin cranks out massive, bull-strong linemen who can absolutely mash. Their effect is cumulative, too; trying to beat a 320-pound guard's run block in the first quarter is bad enough, but trying to beat his run block for the 45th time by the end of the game is utterly exhausting.
It's concerning, then, that Wisconsin's line is going to bear scant resemblance to its 2011 iteration this season. Yes, guard-turned-center Travis Frederick and tackle Ricky Wagner are back; both are strong candidates for First Team All-Big Ten consideration by the end of the season. They're the only two starters back, though, and now it looks as if Wisconsin is going to be without another projected starter, as right tackle Casey Dehn is not expected to be with the team this fall.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has more information:
“He is a guy that can play for us,” offensive line coach Mike Markuson said in the spring. “We’ve got to have him. He does a lot of good things.”
Dehn, 6-foot-6 and 334 pounds, played in five of UW’s first six games last season but left the team because of academic issues. He returned for winter conditioning and earned a spot on the spring roster, but it appears academic issues resurfaced.
What grade do you give the Wisconsin offensive line without Casey Dehn?
Oddly, the Wisconsin State Journal reported in early April that Dehn said his departure from the team last year was due to frustration with the pace of his development and that he had a rocky relationship (but "nothing major") with his position coach at the time, Bob Bostad. Bostad has since moved on to the NFL. No mention was made of academics.
Regardless of why Dehn says left the first time, if academics are a recurring problem for him, it may just be the case that college isn't for him. That's a shame as far as his football career goes, and it's also a shame for Wisconsin's offensive line.
The Badgers will likely be fine; Rob Havenstein is a mammoth (6'8", 343 pounds) who should step back into the starting role at right tackle after missing this spring to shoulder surgery, and Kevin Costigan is a converted defensive tackle who has stayed on the offensive side of the ball even after injuries hit the defensive line hard. The coaches like Costigan, so Wisconsin's ability to get five good blockers on the field is relatively unimpeded by Dehn's departure.
That all said, the coaches liked Dehn too, and it gets harder to build a world-class offensive line every time starting-quality players leave the program. So this is a tough break for Wisconsin, to be sure, and it means keeping its starting five linemen healthy is an even bigger priority than before. And since an offensive line's health can come down to basic luck, well...good luck.
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