Bob Bostad was clear and direct when speaking about how he’ll address the University of Wisconsin’s right tackle spot.
“We’re throwing everything there to make sure that we’re going to get the right guy in there,” the offensive line coach said.
It’s going to be a three-man race during fall camp between junior Logan Brown and redshirt freshmen Riley Mahlman and Nolan Rucci. Brown and Rucci have been battling for the top spot at right tackle since spring practices, while Mahlman seemed like a lock to be the team’s backup left tackle. But Bostad told Mahlman at the end of spring to be ready to play on either side, and the coach has decided to put three talented but inexperienced players to the test for a starting role.
All three were standout recruits in their classes. Brown was a five-star recruit in 2019 and ranked the fourth-best offensive tackle in the country by 247Sports. Rucci was also a five-star recruit in 2021 and ranked fifth nationally at his position. Mahlman was a four-star prospect in the 2021 class, ranked first overall in the state of Minnesota and the No. 15 tackle in the country despite playing tight end in high school.
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Brown’s career at UW has been hampered by injuries and inconsistent play when he was healthy enough to be on the field. He told reporters at UW’s media day Tuesday his goal this summer was to become a better pass blocker.
“(Run blocking) is fine for me,” Brown said. “Of course, there’s room to improve in my game and everybody’s game, but my main focus and what I think has been holding me back has been pass protection.”
Brown has struggled to maintain his balance in pass sets when reporters have been able to watch practices. That leads to quick losses against rushers and instant pressure on the quarterback. Part of Brown’s struggles this spring could be attributed to playing right tackle for the first time, a switch he likened to trying to write with his left hand. He uses his strength well to maintain the edge of the pocket when he’s been able to keep a solid base. But coaches haven’t seen enough of those plays to give him the starting spot without a fight.
It’s rare for Brown (6-foot-6, 313 pounds) to be considered small in any group of people, but he’s the runt of the trio battling to be the right tackle.
Rucci (6-8) is listed at 297 pounds on the roster, but he told reporters Tuesday he’s close to 310 pounds. Adding weight has been a priority this offseason and throughout his career at UW, but he’s been determined not to fall into the trap of adding fat and what he describes as non-functional weight. Rucci was listed at 294 pounds last season, so he’s added about 15 pounds and found success in UW’s strength program.
“It’s a little bit slower process, it takes time,” Rucci said about his weight gain. “I feel like just with all the work we’ve been putting in the weight room, eating right, I think I’ve been able to accomplish that (goal of adding weight). And it feels really good. I still feel just as athletic and fast as I was.”
Mahlman (6-8, 315) also got the push to add pounds, and he’s up 15 pounds on his listed weight from last season. He believes his athleticism and what coaches describe as an aggressive playstyle will help him in the competition. The switch to the right side isn’t a drastic one after former offensive line coach Joe Rudolph had Mahlman and Rucci split reps between right and left tackle on UW’s scout team last season.
Bostad said the summer program allowed the retooled offensive coaching staff to get a lot of its installation of new concepts done before fall camp. Practice sessions this month will be focused on allowing these players chances to earn their spot.
Scheduling out enough reps for the right tackle candidates against first- and second-string competition on defense will be a test for Bostad and the staff. New NCAA rules instituted last season limit teams to nine fully padded practices.
“I think you’ve really got to be surgical with the reps and you’ve got to think about it,” Bostad said. “It’s something I’ve spent a lot of time on. We know it’s not an exact science, but hoping that we’re not wasting reps.”
Bostad’s return to coaching offensive line after five seasons with UW’s inside linebackers brought with it some wholesale changes to how the O-line operates. One crucial difference for the right tackles is Bostad’s teaching of a vertical first step in pass protection, as opposed to a near-45-degree step to the outside taught under Rudolph.
“It changes the angle of the defender, changes our pocket, changes the approach with everything,” Brown said. “It’s different for us because you have to just get used to going backwards instead of where we used to. It’s just learning something new.”
Added Mahlman: “You’re less susceptible to an inside move because you’re further back and there’s not really the angle that D-lineman wants to get inside. And maybe they get a little more head of steam, so you’ve probably got to be ready for a couple more bull rushes, small things like that. It’s nothing crazy.”
Bostad’s direct nature makes him an easy coach to play under, according to players this spring. He doesn’t mince words and lets players know where they stand. The Badgers have three of their best on-paper linemen battling for one spot, and they know chances can dwindle fast by failing to take advantage of each snap.
“When you have a lot of guys competing for a position, there’s not as many reps to go around,” Rucci said. “I think just getting in there and giving it everything you have during those reps, just showing the coaches what you’re capable of — whether it’s technique or even effort — I think is one of the biggest things that they’re looking for. So just put it all out there when I get my opportunity.”
Badgers fans divided over report of UCLA, USC joining the Big Ten
There's a thought
Pretty soon there with be an American College Football League and a National College Football League of paid “amateurs”, with a playoff and the champions facing in a “Super Bowl” championship.— Chris Davis (@cdavis20000) June 30, 2022
It's the end of the world ...
NLI and Conference Realignment will (already has?) destroy the NCAA as we have all known it.— Brian Denu (@BeloitSoccer) June 30, 2022
A long strange call
I just want Bill Walton calling a Wisconsin basketball game— Asher Low (@alow_33) June 30, 2022
Sorry, seat's taken
Love it especially if this spells the end for Rutgers and Maryland .— richard kalson (@rdk1212) June 30, 2022
Sea to shining sea
Never too early to start
I'm already complaining about having to stay up until 1 am for these road games— Chris Cesar (@Cesar_Chris) June 30, 2022
A number's game
Not a fan however $$$ talks. Four super conferences w 16 teams each. 2 divisions of 8. Magic number is 64. Perfect playoff numbers got 8 or 16 team playoff.— Ken Simmons (@KenSimm51368472) June 30, 2022
The jig is up
That the NCAA reallly needs to stop pretending— Cappelle (@adamcappellein6) June 30, 2022
Keep it movin'
Ahhhh…no. Hard pass.— PM Badger (@Oltedlou1) June 30, 2022
California teams would come in and think they are running things from day 1.
Treat other schools like they are rubes.
Let them rebuild their own Pac10/Pac12 whatever.
Send them back Minnesota in return.— Wisconsin Nation (@Wisco___Nation) June 30, 2022
Circling the drain
It’s only about the money now. Big Ten football will never be the same. It’s been going downhill for years… might as well slide straight into the toilet now.— Jìm (@BBQinWIS_Jim) June 30, 2022
Early bird gets the win
9am kickoffs at the Rose Bowl sound rough— Andrew Miller (@heyapm) June 30, 2022
Into the unknown
I absolutely love it. It's not possible to go backwards in this new world, so this is making the best of the situation. Outside of UVa, these two are the best possibilities.— Brian Guilbeault (@badgerbri25) June 30, 2022
Dodging a bullet
Either get in front, or get blown out. SEC and Big Ten will be the two super conferences, and this is the death shot for the PAC 12. Next up will be Washington and Oregon.— Bill Goman (@WibadgerfanBill) June 30, 2022
For football and basketball this is great. Travel is all chartered. I just am not seeing it workout for the nonrevenue sports .— Lowcountry Badger (@ryanb80) June 30, 2022
Actions speak loudest
Money first, students last. Not a fan.— Badger Steve 🧀🍺🦌 (@UW_Steve) June 30, 2022
Big Ten's history
Insane!!! Not a fan of this idea. Too disconnected to the historic roots of the B1G. The B1G will be coast to coast. Which means too much travel for athletes. Also don’t like what this does to historic Rose Bowl matchups.— Tim Young Eagle (@timyoungeagle) June 30, 2022
Don't stop now
Fits the academic and athletic profile, might as well add Washington and Colorado too then we are really cooking with gas— Mr. Cold Mizer (@awk7091) June 30, 2022
Building an empire
Big Fan! Expands media footprint! Rich get richer!— Charlie Stalle (@CStalle) June 30, 2022
What's not to like?
USC in Madison in the middle of November. And vice versa, im in.— Mike Smith (@SmithMJ7209) June 30, 2022
Swing and a miss
16 schools and only one without baseball— Joe Kuester (@JCKuest) June 30, 2022
Nothing lasts forever
Was meant— Bryan Michael Wolfe (@bryanmwolfe) June 30, 2022
Paying the price
Do they realize that means they’ll have to occasionally play Rutgers in cold weather?— J. Fishy (@freyfishy82) June 30, 2022
First things first
That Maryland to LA flight is just what those students need to succeed in the classroom during week days! Any school’s athletic program that tells you Academics is their main focus is lying to your face. Winning > Grades.— Sam Dekker (@dekker) June 30, 2022
(I don’t have an opinion either way) https://t.co/fcFRNS5kAy