Madison, Wis. – When you think of Wisconsin football—you think of a dominant, nasty offensive line whose physicality wears opponents down for four quarters. Well, at least you used to.
During the final seasons of the Paul Chryst era, UW’s offensive line play was good—but certainly not elite. The subpar production was disappointing, considering the number of blue-chip talents the Badgers have landed since 2019.
According to Pro Football Focus, Wisconsin football finished as the No. 28 best run-blocking unit and the No. 15 pass-blocking team last season. That looks pretty good on paper, but the eye test didn’t reflect a squad known for winning games in the trenches.
After finishing the season with a Guaranteed Rate Bowl victory, Wisconsin lost only one starting offensive lineman, center Joe Tippmann who declared for the NFL draft, and veteran guard/tackle Tyler Beach.
There is plenty of returning talent, transfer portal additions, and room to improve in 2023, but can UW return to the gold standard?
New Offensive Line Coach
Among the many new faces on the Wisconsin football coaching staff is Jack Bicknell, the new offensive line coach who comes to UW after working with Phil Longo at North Carolina this past season.
Bicknell, a former center at Boston College, joins the Badgers with an impressive resume (as would be expected at O-Line U), having coached in the NFL for the Giants, Chiefs, Steelers, and Dolphins, while also making collegiate stops at UNC, Ole Miss, Louisville, and Auburn.
Coach Bicknell shared in a recent media availability that he intends to give everyone a clean slate and prefers to move guys around to see where they fit best.
“There is no left and right..just trying to figure out who can play center/guard and then guard/tackle,” Bicknell told reporters.
With openings across the offensive line and no preconceived notions, it’ll make for an exciting battle to monitor in the spring and fall.
Wisconsin Football Offseason Additions
Luke Fickell made it clear he doesn’t intend to build his team through the transfer portal, but in year one, he needed an influx of talent across the roster — so he and his staff went window shopping.
UW came out with two significant additions on the offensive line, both of whom played for Fickell at Cincinnati.
The first transfer portal addition was redshirt sophomore Joe Huber, who started all 14 games at right tackle this past season for the Bearcats.
According to Pro Football Focus, Huber logged 854 snaps this past season and finished with a grade of 80.6. Which, for reference, would have been the highest among the Badgers’ starting offensive line in 2022.
But the second player was the big fish. Wisconsin football arguably landed the best center available in the portal, Jake Renfro, who also comes from Cincinnati.
Renfro, a former All-AAC first-team member, was a multi-year starting center for the Bearcats but missed all of 2022 due to a season-ending injury.
According to Pro Football Focus, the 6-foot-3, 310-pound linemen logged 1,126 snaps, all at center, and has allowed only four sacks in 602 pass-blocking sets. He’ll immediately slot into the starting center role vacated by Joe Tippmann.
Wisconsin Football Returning Offensive Line Talent
- Jack Nelson – 750 snaps.
- Tanor Bortolini – 661 snaps.
- Trey Wedig – 566 snaps.
- Michael Furtney – 516 snaps.
- Riley Mahlman – 397 snaps.
- Joe Brunner – 38 snaps.
- Nolan Rucci – 28 snaps.
- Dylan Barrett – 28 snaps.
- JP Benzschawel – 21 snaps.
In 2023, UW returns Jack Nelson, Trey Wedig, Tanor Bortolini, Michael Furtney, and Riley Mahlman, all of which made starts last season—along with countless other high-pedigree talents such as Nolan Rucci and Joe Brunner waiting in the wings.
— Dillon Graff (@DillonGraff) September 12, 2022
On paper, the Badgers offensive line should be better and deeper in 2023 despite losing Joe Tippmann to the NFL.
However, Wisconsin football has a new offensive scheme and philosophy (up-tempo, no-huddle), so watching how the o-line groupings shake out once practice begins will be interesting. Because if this group can return to the gold standard, there’s no telling how high the ceiling could be for the offense next season.
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