MADISON, Wis. - For a team that expects to return four of last year's five starting offensive linemen this fall, the Badgers will be working with plenty of new faces during spring camp.
Head coach Gary Andersen has already ruled Dan Voltz and Dallas Lewallen out for the duration of camp while they rehab their off-season surgeries, but I'd be surprised if they were the only starters to see a decreased workload.
Remember that right guard Kyle Costigan sat out for most of last year's spring camp to limit the wear and tear on his knees, and the staff knows what they have in right tackle Rob Havenstein, who has started each of Wisconsin's last 27 games. Andersen and offensive line coach T.J. Woods could decide they'd rather not risk injuring either player, which means they'd have a lot of reps to dish out this spring without many bodies to take them.
"They could possibly be involved in spring ball, but they will not be just to be on the safe side of things. We have a lot of young men that need as many reps as they can possibly get," Andersen said earlier this month on Signing Day. "They'll be full go in all summer conditioning and expect no issues with them walking into fall camp at 100 percent.
"The other part of that is for those young men, you want to have Rob and Costigan get a little break. They're proven players. They've got things they need to work on, but we want to have these young guys get a lot of reps in spring football to develop the depth of that offensive line."
That could pay off for the Badgers in the long run if they are able to build some more depth on the offensive line, but it is a situation that Woods will have to monitor closely during the spring. With all that in mind here are a few things I'll be watching on the offensive line during spring camp, which opens on March 5.
How much playing time will the early enrollees get?
It seems like I write the same thing every year: enrolling early is a great way for high school prospects to start their college careers if they're mature enough to handle a major life change a semester early. In the case of Michael Deiter and Jaden Gault, the Badgers are hoping they will be ready for that and much more in their first semester on campus.
Andersen said on National Signing Day that Deiter might have to be Wisconsin's No. 1 center for spring camp while Lewallen and Voltz work their way back from offseason surgeries. In addition, Gault has been pegged for early playing time ever since he committed to the Badgers way back in August of 2012 -- and as of right now it looks like he could get some work as one of the second or third team tackles.
"With Jaden and Michael coming in at the break for the semester, already being involved in the program, they have a tremendous opportunity to do that," Andersen said about the two playing early. "Jaden will be in the mix. Michael may be the starting center with the injuries at this point to Dan and to Dallas. So that is a tremendous opportunity for a young freshman at the center spot. Very challenging, but a great opportunity."
Those are pretty significant reps for any player, let alone one in their first semester with the team. Plugging Deiter in on the first team and Gault with the second team could lead to some early "wake-up call" moments against Wisconsin's first team defense, but the Badgers will have to hope that the early exposure will pay off for Dieter and Gault -- just like it did for Voltz, who enrolled early out of high school and started six games last year as a redshirt freshman.
Who slots in at left guard?
When fall camp rolls around the Badgers will have just one open offensive line spot, and even that depends on your definition of "open." Ryan Groy is off to the NFL after starting in every one of Wisconsin's games over the last two seasons, which means they need to find someone to replace him at left guard.
But there is a slight catch here: Wisconsin's likeliest candidate to start at left guard might not take any reps this spring. Given how Voltz held his own at center over the final few games of the 2013 season I think the Badgers will be tempted to shift Lewallen back over to left guard from center once he is healthy enough to play in the fall. That is a look the Badgers tried out during fall camp last year -- back when Groy was slotted in at left tackle and before Voltz tweaked a hamstring that forced them to move Lewallen over to center.
Other players like Ray Ball might have something to say about Lewallen taking the left guard job, though, and they have a big opportunity in front of them this spring with Lewallen on the sidelines. The Badgers need someone to step up at left guard, and favorable impressions during spring camp will probably carry over into August as well.
Projected depth chart
Dallas Lewallen (expected to be limited)
Dan Voltz (expected to be limited)
Kyle Costigan (expected to be limited)
John Veldhuis covers Wisconsin football, basketball and recruiting for BadgerBlitz.com on the Rivals.com network. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnVeldhuis.