3 Questions Wisconsin Football’s Offensive Line Faces During Spring Training
When he was an NFL assistant evaluating the University of Wisconsin’s offensive linemen, Jack Bicknell Jr. knew there would be a few boxes checked before turning on the tape.
The offensive linemen would be of the size needed to play in the pros and they would be well trained.
“That’s like I said, for 30 years I’ve been sitting there watching Wisconsin and saying, ‘Man, that’s a good offensive line,'” Bicknell told reporters last month.
The veteran line coach will get his first chance to coach in the Big Ten Conference when he takes over the frontline of the program, a talented group trying to regain the dominance it once claimed over games.
People also read…
3 questions to ask about Wisconsin football safety in spring training
Bicknell’s primary responsibility when spring drills begin on March 25 will be to install the new techniques required to operate offensive coordinator Phil Longo’s air defense system. According to Bicknell, the blocking style is similar to UW, but fixing problems installing the new scheme must be done in the spring to create real competition for roles in the fall.
In this series, BadgerExtra will examine three key questions facing a handful of positional groups before these drills begin, and with the offensive line, Bicknell’s concern could be having too many options.
1. What to do at the station?
UW enters spring practice with six players who could be fighting for starting shelter spots. The frontrunners in this group are junior Tanor Bortolini, senior Michael Furtney and junior Trey Wedig based on their experience, but young talent like JP Benzschawel and Joe Brunner pressed for snaps late last year. Brunner played in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl and helped power a touchdown drive. There’s also transfer junior’s new signing Joe Huber (6-foot-5, 310 pounds), who played tackle for UW coach Luke Fickell in Cincinnati but may be a better fit for UW.
3 questions the tight ends of Wisconsin football ask themselves during spring training
Many of the responsibilities that guards had last year – pulls, double teams, etc. – will be transferred to Longo’s system. However, at stops in North Carolina and Mississippi, the offensive lines used wider splits than UW’s. This distance between linemen will place more importance on speed from guard spots as guards need to close the gaps and lock onto a defender within their first two strides.
The fast pace of offense will give Bicknell enough snaps to look at just about any combination of guards he would need to watch. Don’t expect jobs to be won in the spring, but sow for the fall.
2. Who supports Renfro?
Jake Renfro is another Cincinnati transfer for UW who looks like a shoo-in for the starting center role. He was a 2021 All-AAC first-team selection before a training camp injury sidelined him for the 2022 season. His experience and talent will help cement a place that lost two-year starter Joe Tippmann and had no obvious replacement.
3 questions facing the Wisconsin football defensive line during spring training
But finding a backup for Renfro should be on Bicknell’s checklist this spring. Renfro told BadgerExtra he feels healthy and ready to play this spring but coaches will be monitoring his return to contact closely. Some options for being the second-team center include moving Bortolini off guard — especially if the guard position is as deep as advertised — or last year’s backup center Dylan Barrett.
UW is expected to throw the ball more often on air attack, so having multiple centers capable of making the line calls and timing protection properly is important to the offense as a whole.
3. Does Rucci fit this system better than the last one?
Former five-star tackle Nolan Rucci’s recruiting win was an important part of Class of 2021, the highest-rated group in program history. But Rucci has only played 28 offensive snaps in two years and needs to win a battle for positions this year to crack the starting lineup. UW’s best starting tackles from last season, Riley Mahlman and Jack Nelson, are still on the list, and Rucci’s 6ft 8 frame makes it difficult to play any other position as a tackle.
10 Things We Learned About Wisconsin Football’s Assistant Coaches
A snap-earning Rucci snag had to add some weight as he struggled to anchor and stop bull-rushes from some of the better edge players on UW’s roster. He was listed at 297 pounds last season, up from 294 as a freshman. A spring soccer squad with updated measurements is expected to be released on Monday.
Bicknell had his tackles set up in two-point positions in North Carolina. If that carries over to UW, it can help Rucci use his lateral quickness more easily than break out of a three-point stance.
Check out Wisconsin Football’s new practice table setup