MADISON - When the University of Wisconsin football team takes the field against Alabama on Sept. 5 they’ll be facing a daunting challenge. Already 10.5-point favorites, the Tide will bring arguably the best defensive line in the country into AT&T Stadium just outside of Dallas. They boast defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson, who could be an early first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft. Others like Jonathan Allen and Jarran Reed are considered possible early round picks as well, while last year’s top-rated recruit Da’Shawn Hand enters his second season.
"That defensive line is a beast," Alabama running back Derrick Henrytold AL.com in the spring. "You've got four or five big guys that dominate every play and give it their all every play, and that's all you can ask from the defensive line.”
That’s what the Badgers’ offensive line will be facing that night – something that would be tough even with an experienced unit back. But UW doesn’t have that experience, at least not across the board. That’s why the play and leadership of senior left tackle Tyler Marz will be paramount to the Badgers standing a chance in the season opener for both teams. The Minnesota native is entering his third year as a starter, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten last season in a conference stacked with a lot of talented tackles. But gone are linemates Dallas Lewallen, Kyle Costigan and Rob Havenstein, replaced with three players that have yet to start a game.
“You can definitely feel the void there,” Marz admitted in the spring. “You can definitely feel that those other three guys are gone. We miss them. But this spring has been good for the young guys.”
Marz used to be that young guy. He was forced into action in 2013 after an injury and over time has become the “next” guy at a school that produces as many offensive linemen for the NFL as any program in the country. He’s considered the third or fourth best tackle in the Big Ten, with the guys in front of him expected to go in the first round. Marz has the ability to be a mid-round or higher pick next April.
“There was always been the confidence in us that he was going to be a great player,” former graduate assistant Josh Oglesby said in the spring. “Every year you hope for some improvement but Tyler’s gains have been huge to where he is that guy now that we look to. When we need to have a play, we look to Tyler.”
The young players will look to Marz this year, just like he did when coming up. He got an opportunity to watch Ricky Wagner, Travis Fredrick, Peter Konz and many more apply their trade. And though he’s not a very vocal type of leader, he doesn’t need to be.
“I think as an offensive lineman here, you show what you’ve got by doing it on the field,” he said. “There’s definitely times that you need a little pick me up here or there, but I think that’s one of the things we pride ourselves in. I definitely saw it as a young guy. There didn’t need to be a lot of talking along the offensive line.”
But there does need to be continuity along the line, something that wasn’t there during the spring. Center Dan Voltz, the only other current lineman to start a game in his career, missed a majority of practice with a leg injury. It forced a shuffling of the line, which happened again when left guard Ray Ball went down late in camp. Both guys are expected back for the start of fall camp and need to be on the field for UW in North Texas.
As for the rest of the guys, Marz is confident they’ll step up like others before them.
"Wisconsin has a tradition of just always someone stepping up,” he said. “It was my duty two years ago when I was coming in here. (Former Badgers guard) Ryan Groy might not have had the confidence in me coming out of that spring, but come fall I was a guy. And for me then, I just didn't want to let him down. So the guys really need to feel that with me and Dan (Voltz), because that motivates you. You don't want to let the guy next to you down. We'll just keep moving forward."
1) July 31
2) July 30
3) July 29
4) July 28
5) LT Tyler Marz
About the 2015 Most Important Badgers:
This is not a list of the best players on this year’s squad. Instead, we asked a number of ESPN Wisconsin personalities to rank the 15 players that are most vital to the Badgers success in 2015. They were told their rankings should be based on what players hold the key to UW competing for a Big Ten title or more in Paul Chryst’s first year as coach. Factors that came into play were past success, what was said about them by their coaches this offseason and what type of season could be expected from that particular player.
The list does not include any incoming freshmen, because we have yet to see them on the field as college players.