The Wisconsin Badgers officially concluded spring camp last Friday night and now head into the summer months preparing for the fall.
While spring football is generally a time for self-improvement and overall development, the 15 extra practices also provide players the opportunity to step up and show the coaching staff that they warrant playing time come fall.
While the Badgers were confined to the McClain Center with ongoing renovations to Camp Randall, the offense was able to lay the foundation with new offensive coordinator Bobby Engram and multiple new position coaches on the staff.
Over the next two weeks, All Badgers will take a position-by-position look at some of the general takeaways from the spring and what it could mean for each position group come fall.
Previously covered positions:
Today we wrap up the offense, with a focus on the offensive line, where there are still some lingering questions heading into the summer.
Looking to replace two multi-year starters from last season, new offensive line coach Bob Bostad came into the spring with a fresh outlook at a position group that underperformed at times a year ago.
Bostad wasted little time putting his fingerprints on the offense by increasing the pace of practice and making the offensive line run gassers for penalties. The veteran offensive line coach also shifted multiple players on the line to new homes, and to this point, he has kept them there.
Some of the notable position changes were moving former five-star Jack Nelson from right guard to left tackle and bumping sixth-year senior Tyler Beach in from left guard to left tackle.
The combination of Nelson and Beach looked good throughout the spring, and both players appear comfortable in their new homes. With some of the struggles that Beach encountered last season, he played well at left guard this spring, and I think the new position is better suited to his skillset.
Behind those two on the left side, freshman Riley Mahlman put together a strong spring as the backup left tackle. He earned some reps with the first team while Jack Nelson sat out team portions at times with an arm injury, and I think that Mahlman is a player that could push for the right tackle spot come the fall. He plays with a nasty streak that Bob Bostad likes, and at 6-foot-8, he has the athleticism to become a great tackle for the Badgers. Dylan Barrett earned most of the reps as the second-team left guard this spring, and the sophomore out of Illinois seems to be a player that could easily slot in if needed next season due to injuries.
One key piece that was missing all spring was center Joe Tippmann. After starting there a year ago, he was unable to participate due to an injury, and sophomore Tanor Bortolini took the first-team reps in his place. Bortolini stood out this spring, and he is a guy that can play anywhere along the line after playing center, guard, and tackle the past two seasons for the Badgers. Tippmann will probably regain his starting spot this spring after an impressive first year as a starter, but the question is, what does Bostad do with Bortolini?
Bortolini could remain a reserve and be a "sixth-man" of sorts as a swing offensive lineman that can start at multiple positions in a pinch. However, a strong case can be made that Bortolini is one of the top-five offensive linemen at this juncture. Based on the spring, I think he will battle with Michael Furtney at right guard in the fall for a starting spot, though his versatility could allow Bostad to get creative and try several different combinations.
As mentioned, Michael Furtney was at right guard this spring. While he did not make any splash plays, he was consistent, and that should give him solid odds to compete for a starting spot in the fall. He does not have the same upside as a young player like Bortolini, but he is an experienced option that rarely makes mistakes.
Next to Furtney for most of the spring was Logan Brown at right tackle. The former five-star out of Michigan struggled at times adjusting to a new position, but his athletic ability stands out. Multiple injuries, most notably a nagging shoulder injury, hampered his development, so this spring was big for Brown because he remained healthy. I still think that right tackle is the biggest question mark heading into the summer for the Wisconsin offensive line, and several players could be in contention, including Brown.
Redshirt freshman Nolan Rucci received the bulk of second-team reps behind Brown, and he is also a former five-star player with size and athleticism that makes him an intriguing option. But it is hard to know if he is indeed ready. Redshirt sophomore Trey Wedig received second-team reps at both right guard and right tackle this spring, and at 6-foot-7 he is another former four-star that could snag a spot on the right side of the line with a big summer and a standout fall camp.
Right tackle is also a position where Tanor Bortolini has started games in the past. Is that the role for him? Or does Riley Mahlman slide over to play right tackle and compete with Brown? What about Tyler Beach? He has started games at right tackle in the past as well, and that would free open the left guard spot for Bortolini.
The fact that Logan Brown took the vast majority of first-team reps at right tackle indicates that the staff is willing to give him every chance to nail down the role. However, several other up-and-coming linemen will push him this fall.
Following the spring, it is pretty clear that there are lingering questions on the right side of the offensive line. Not necessarily because there is no talent, but because it will take the fall to likely sort out the starters.
I, for one, am excited to see how those battles shake out come August.
Projected depth chart (for now):
Left tackle: Jack Nelson (RS SO), Riley Mahlman (RS FR)
Left guard: Tyler Beach (6th SR), Tanor Bortolini (RS SO) or Dylan Barrett (RS SO)
Center: Joe Tippmann (RS JR), Cormac Sampson (RS SR) or Tanor Bortolini (RS SO)
Right guard: Michael Furtney (RS SR), Tanor Bortolini (RS SO) or Trey Wedig (RS SO)
Right tackle: Logan Brown (RS JR), Nolan Rucci (RS FR)
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