UW football: Ball adds to a jumbo package on offensive line

2011-08-26T05:20:00Z 2012-05-23T17:53:50Z UW football: Ball adds to a jumbo package on offensive lineTOM MULHERN | tmulhern@madison.com | 608-252-6169 | Twitter: @TomMulhernWSJ madison.com

Freshman Ray Ball is an example of the direction the University of Wisconsin offensive line is heading.

Ball, from Columbus, Ohio, is listed at 6-foot-7, 335 pounds. And he is a guard.

Everybody knows the Badgers traditionally have one of the heaviest lines in the country. This year's projected starters have a combined weight of 1,610 pounds, an average of 322 pounds per player.

But the Badgers also must be in the running for one of the tallest lines.

The shortest starters are the two guards, Kevin Zeitler and Travis Frederick, who are listed at 6-4. Peter Konz is 6-5, which is tall for a center.

The tackles are Ricky Wagner (6-6) and Josh Oglesby (6-7).

It has reached the point where backup right tackle Rob Havenstein, listed at 6-8 and 345 pounds, hardly stands out in the crowd.

Now comes the latest trend of guards like Ball, who not so long ago would have been considered a giant tackle.

And it's not just Ball, either. Junior Robert Burge, who is 6-7, has worked at guard, as has Casey Dehn, who is 6-6 and was being trained at tackle and guard before suffering an ankle injury.

If you get the impression offensive line coach Bob Bostad won't be happy until he puts five tackle-size players on the field, you are right.

"If you could, you'd like to play with five tackles," Bostad said. "I mean, why not, if they have a skill set you like?"

But Bostad is not willing to sacrifice athleticism for size, which is what makes Ball so impressive. While he looks like a tackle, he moves like a guard.

"He's strong and explosive," Bostad said. "Strong hands. He's got a long ways to go technique-wise, but those are good places to start. He's a willing soul and works hard."

Due to injuries on the line, Ball got extensive work last week as the backup left guard. Freshman Tyler Marz, from Springfield, Minn., worked at right tackle with the second team.

Having a couple true freshmen in the two-deep is not ideal for getting the line ready for the opener against UNLV in six days. But those two players will reap big dividends.

"You talk about a lot of stuff thrown at these guys," Bostad said. "It's just a lot of information in a short amount of time. They're really swimming. They're working hard. They're doing some good things."

Ball not only is an impressive-looking athlete, he has the kind of personality and approach that leads coaches to say, "He gets it."

And down the road, the image of a pulling Ball leading ballcarriers around the corner excites the coaches.

"What we're trying to get is the (guards) inside who have the ability to pull with some power," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "Ray kind of has impressed from the get-go with his athleticism and his feet."

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