After Dan Voltz tore the anterior cruciate ligament and lateral meniscus in his right knee on Oct. 24 in a game against Illinois, the three-year starter at center for the University of Wisconsin football team could do nothing but help replacement Michael Deiter grow into a new position.
After six months of watching the now-redshirt sophomore snap the ball, Voltz came to the conclusion he’s the one who now needs to learn another spot on the offensive line.
It didn’t even prompt much shock when Voltz suggested to the coaching staff that Deiter should remain at center once the senior is healthy.
“I think Dan’s the type of guy that would do anything for this team,” Deiter said. “That’s why it didn’t really surprise me.”
No final decision has been made, but Voltz called his suggestion to move to guard “the reality of the situation.”
While Voltz’s decision speaks to the improvement of Deiter, it’s also another indicator of how many more options UW has along the offensive line than it did a year ago.
The Badgers entered last season battling injuries at the position and rotated players along the right side of the line nearly every week. Voltz’s midseason injury made matters even worse, and UW ended the season with four redshirt freshmen starting up front.
While the unit struggled throughout that season, the experience gained figures to help the Badgers in 2016.
If Deiter did remain at center in the fall, Voltz would shift to guard where he’ll compete with redshirt sophomores Beau Benzschawel and Micah Kapoi and redshirt freshman Jon Dietzen.
Dietzen has taken steps toward becoming game-ready this spring, while Kapoi started games at both right and left guard last year.
Benzschawel was one of UW’s best linemen during the final two games last season. He missed the first five games with a knee injury and started six games at right tackle before moving to right guard for the final two games — when the Badgers ran the ball much better against Minnesota and Southern California.
“All of a sudden he became the best guard on the team,” UW offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph said. “We were just different when he went to guard. He does a good job of getting off the line of scrimmage. He has that power at guard where he made a difference.”
The only departure on the offensive line was left tackle Tyler Marz, but many believe UW-Stevens transfer Ryan Ramczyk will step into that spot without any drop-off from Marz’s production.
Jacob Maxwell played well at right tackle in the final two games last season, and Benzschawel can serve as the third tackle due to the depth at guard.
Rudolph also said he believes incoming freshmen Cole Van Lanen and Patrick Kasl could compete for a spot on the two-deep once they join the team in the fall.
“The more competition you have, the better off you are,” Voltz said. “I think as an O-line, having guys fight for spots versus having guys feel that they’re comfortable and there’s nobody behind them pushing for that spot is good. If I can create some competition with these guys, that’s going to benefit all of us and that’s going to be fun.”