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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Offensive linemen building chemistry for ’06 season

[media-credit name=’YANA PASKOVA/Herald Photo’ align=’alignnone’ width=’648′]fb_spring_YP_416[/media-credit]This is the first of a nine-part series previewing the major position battles of the 2006 University of Wisconsin football team, chronicled through Spring Practice.

Last year, Brian Calhoun ran wild over Big Ten and non-conference opponents, racking up 2,207 all-purpose yards in just 13 games.

Calhoun was just the latest of many Badger greats at the running back position, but no success from the past could have been possible without the big guys up front making holes for the quick tailbacks in Wisconsin history.


It hasn't even been three months, and the UW offense already appears radically different than when it pulled the upset victory over the Tigers in Orlando. While quarterback John Stocco remains, there will be new backs, new tight ends, new wide receivers.

Not a problem for the offensive line.

True, head coach Bret Bielema has to replace three graduating starters on the offensive line — including three-time honorably mentioned All-Big Ten center Donovan Raiola — but just having two returning linemen will go a long way in creating a sense of chemistry among the guys in front of Stocco.

And that's especially true when a guy like Joe Thomas comes back.

Unfortunately for Thomas, who returns alongside 2005 Big Ten All-Freshman team member Kraig Urbik, he won't be able to begin that process for some time. Thomas tore his right ACL during the third quarter of the Capital One Bowl, and has been relegated to the sidelines for each of UW's workouts and the Spring Game during the month of April.

"He won't be going at all during the spring, but he's progressing, doing all the things we asked him to do," Bielema said. "But we expect him to be full go by the time the ball rolls around next [fall].

"He's going to man that [left tackle] spot, and I expect him to probably do a little bit more," Bielema continued. "He's a guy that has a lot of the special abilities, and we'll use every one of them that we can."

Brand-new Wisconsin offensive line coach Bob Palcic has been forced to make the most of his star lineman's injury, and has already made strides to look at the bright side of things.

"With Joe Thomas not being able to go, I'm trying to make that a positive," Palcic said. "That gives me an opportunity to work with some other young players who ordinarily wouldn't be getting the same number of repetitions in practice time if Joe was healthy.

"So would I like to have Joe out there? Of course I would," the coach added. "But if I can't, this gives me an opportunity to develop some depth at that position."

According to Palcic, the challenges he'll face this season have already been significantly lessened with the return of the senior All-American tackle.

"Joe's a terrific player, he's the leader of our offensive line, and a good role model for the younger players," Palcic said. "Any time you have a great player, it makes a coach's job much easier."

With Raiola, Matt Lawrence, and Jason Palermo gone to graduation, Thomas said it's going to take some time for the line to get to know one another and come together as one unit.

"Some guys have played more, some have played less, but we are pretty familiar with each other," Thomas said. "It's going to be hard, though, because I am going to be playing next to a new guy, because my left guard (Lawrence) graduated last year, so I'd really like to pick up on how my new partner plays."

This means more chances for younger players like Luke Knauf, Eric VandenHeuvel, and Andy Kemp, who were all seen working out with quarterbacks Stocco and Tyler Donovan during weekend drills.

Palcic also mentioned Jeff Stehle and Mark Gorham as a couple of ex-UW defensive linemen and will not only have to adjust to a new coach, but a new style as offensive linemen as well.

Junior Marcus Coleman, at the center position, will be looked at to fill the void left by Raiola from last season. Coleman had the opportunity over the course of three years (including a redshirt year in 2003) to learn the ropes from the Hawaiian recruit, and said his experiences on the sideline under Raiola will be monumental in his success this upcoming fall.

"I respected Donovan a lot, I thought he was a really good player," Coleman said. "Sitting back and watching him play for the past three years has been really good as far as watching him develop as a player. It's really helped me develop as a player [because of] everything he's taught me with protections and just certain things in the game that I wouldn't know otherwise."

Coleman believes there won't be any chemistry issues with Stocco, who had built a strong on-field relationship with the departed Raiola.

"So far, so good. We haven't put any balls on the carpet yet, so that's a good thing," Coleman said. "Quarterback-center exchange, I don't really look at it as a problem at all."

"[For] Marcus, this is a big year. He's got to step up, he's in the starting lineup," Bielema said. "I think Marcus has the intelligence, he has the athletic ability, just got to put it all together and carry it over to the football field."

Coleman has shown optimism in his line's ability to form together as an effective 2006 corps that will be looking to propel the UW running game to another big year.

"I think we have a pretty cohesive group going," he said. "As far as the depth goes, all we can really do right now is just go out there every day and just practice the best we can, everything will just work out to its best."

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