Secrets behind Wisconsin’s OL factory

They’re enormous. Ferocious. Relentless. And, lately, they all leave Madison, Wisc., headed directly to one place — the NFL.

We’re talking about the University of Wisconsin football team’s offensive linemen.

Three were selected in last year’s NFL draft, and all started (see sidebar chart).

Two more for sure, and maybe a third, will be picked later this week in the 2012 draft. Centre Peter Konz and guard Kevin Zeitler will be taken either late Thursday night in Round 1, or Friday night in Round 2. Injury-riddled tackle Josh Oglesby might be a late-round pick.

KONZThat would be six offensive linemen in two years from the same school. Unheard of. With apologies to Russell Crowe, that’s 1,900-odd pounds of grunt.

What’s more, in 2007 the same Badgers program produced offensive tackle Joe Thomas, an all-pro in each of his first five seasons with the Cleveland Browns, and arguably the best OL in the league.

“Offensive linemen are doing things at a high level at Wisconsin. I think that’s how they’re being looked at,” said Bob Bostad, who was OL and tight ends coach, as well as running-game coordinator, for the Badgers from 2006 until this past January, when he moved to the University of Pittsburgh. Just a month after that, Bostad, accepted another job — as offensive line coach with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, under new head coach Greg Schiano.
So what’s their big secret up in cheesehead country?

We pitched that question to Bostad, and to two of this year’s OL crop — Konz (my photo of him, above, at combine) and Oglesby. They offered the following insights.

Bostad“You’ve got to give the kids credit to have the internal motivation to do what they’ve done, and to take the coaching — I think that’s where it starts,” Bostad (right) said in a telephone interview, just a few days before he left Pittsburgh.

“I thought one of the best indicators was that from their junior to their senior years, their performances were still getting better. There’s always room for improvement, but not every kid improves. I felt like our kids were getting better. We were getting the max out of them. And I think that goes back to coaching, and to the beginning component — their willingness.”

One reason the players were highly motivated was because, with the exception of Oglesby, they weren’t highly recruited out of high school. The Ohio States, Penn States and Alabamas never looked their way. Thus, they had a lot to prove.

“We were real fortunate to have kids who came from pretty humble beginnings — humble and honest, and they were sponges,” said Bostad, 45, who was born and raised in Wisconsin. “They didn’t go through a cycle like highly recruited kids go through, where in high school as sophomores they’re courted, as juniors they’re courted, and as seniors they’re courted hard.”

As for technique, Bostad said it’s not that he taught the Badgers linemen anything revolutionary or different.

“They’re time-tested techniques — that not everybody might agree with. But it’s working,” he said.

OglesbyOglesby, who persevered through five knee surgeries at Wisconsin (after one in high school), said there was one drill the Badgers did daily in summer camp, and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the season, that instilled in the offensive linemen both confidence and a mindset of physical superiority.

“It was what we call the Inside Drill,” Oglesby told me at the scouting combine in February (my photo of him, right).

Konz elaborated the next day.

“Inside Drill is about 10 minutes of rapid-fire plays,” Konz said. “Blitzes and everything. There’s no huddle. Coach just calls out a play, you get down, it’s on the quick, you go.

“That really got us prepared for a game … So when it got down to the wire, you knew you could push through. And I think that’s part of what made us successful.”

Another important factor: Wisconsin implements all the various blocking schemes used in the NFL, which gives scouts all they need to see from Badger linemen on game film.

“They can see our zone stuff, or our pulling stuff, or our gap schemes,” Bostad said. “Everybody who’s interested in our kids can legitimately evaluate them for their team and what they do, and feel good about what they see. I think that helps.”

 

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THE BADGER ROAD-GRADERS

Three University of Wisconsin offensive linemen were selected in last year’s NFL draft, and all started as rookies. Two or three more will be picked this week. A look at the BIG six:

2012 DRAFT PROSPECTS:

PETER KONZ
C/OG
6-foot-5, 314
DRAFT PROJECTION: late 1st round
QUOTE: “Throw me anywhere. I’d be happy because I love playing football.”

KEVIN ZEITLER
OG/C
6-foot-4, 314
DRAFT PROJECTION: late 1st or early 2nd round
QUOTE: “There’s been a great tradition of offensive line (at Wisconsin). We respect it. Nobody wants to be the guy that stops it.”

JOSH OGLESBY
OT
6-foot-7, 338
DRAFT PROJECTION: 6th or 7th round, if at all
QUOTE: “(Browns OT Joe Thomas) is arguably the best offensive lineman in the league right now, but there were good offensive linemen (at Wisconsin) before Joe Thomas.”

2011 DRAFTEES

GABE CARIMI
OT
6-foot-7, 315
DRAFTED: 1st round, 29th overall, by Chicago
ROOKIE YEAR: Started first two games at RT before suffering season-ending knee injury.

JOHN MOFFITT
OG
6-foot-4, 320
DRAFTED: 3rd round, 75th overall, by Seattle
ROOKIE YEAR: Started first nine games at RG before suffering season-ending knee injury.

BILL NAGY
C
6-foot-3, 318
DRAFTED: 7th round, 252nd overall, by Dallas
ROOKIE YEAR: Started first four games at C before fracturing ankle and missing remainder of season.

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