With four returning starters on the offensive line and three talented tailbacks, it's no secret the University of Wisconsin football team would like to return to its power running roots.
"That's what the coaches are trying to stress," sophomore center John Moffitt, the only new starter, said in the spring. "We're going to be a grind-it-out team, get it done on the ground."
The Badgers feature three seniors who are three-year starters on the offensive line. Right guard Kraig Urbik, right tackle Eric Vanden Heuvel and left guard Andy Kemp have started a combined 85 games. Urbik leads the way with 39 straight starts and was a consensus second-team All-Big Ten pick last season.
Sophomore Gabe Carimi started all 13 games at left tackle in an impressive first year that saw him earn mention on several All-America freshman teams. He might have the biggest upside of anyone on the line.
Moffitt moved to center in the spring after starting six games at left guard.
"Really, there aren't going to be any newbies coming back to start," Vanden Heuvel said. "We shouldn't have an experience issue and that's a big thing for offensive linemen. We'll all come in with game experience."
The best UW teams have featured dominating offensive lines. UW coach Bret Bielema was asked if the offensive line would be a strength on this year's team.
"I think it needs to be," he said. "You've got three seniors. You've got guys that have played a lot of football here and I really like the development of John Moffitt."
Still, this line needs to prove it can be as dominating against top-flight competition as it has been against weaker teams.
In last year's three regular-season losses, to Illinois, Penn State and Ohio State, the Badgers averaged 75.3 rushing yards. They rushed 102 times for 226 yards (2.2 average) and two touchdowns.
In the nine regular-season wins, they averaged 243.6 rushing yards. They rushed 444 times for 2,192 yards (4.9 average) and 26 touchdowns.
Moreover, allowing sacks continued to be a problem. For the second straight year, the Badgers ranked 10th in the Big Ten Conference, allowing 33 for 225 yards in losses.
Bielema liked the changes in the spring under new position coach Bob Bostad, the former tight ends coach who switched jobs after Bob Palcic left in January for UCLA.
"If you really watch what goes on during our individual periods and the way those guys work, the way they go about their business, they're a lot more repetitive about getting off the football," Bielema said.
"Basic fundamentals, a little bit different footwork with Bob. ... I really have seen a significant increase in the way we've been able to move people off the football from an offensive line point of view."
All the talk of running the ball this year is music to the ears of the linemen. But it won't happen unless the line continues to progress.
"You've got to put it on yourself and just make it happen," Vanden Heuvel said.
With the three seniors leading the way, that should not be a problem.
"This is the last year for me, Kraig and Kemp," Vanden Heuvel said. "We've got a very talented line coming in this year. We have to be an extremely powerful force in driving the offense.
"With the quality and number of running backs we have, and the line we have, running the ball shouldn't be a problem. It's something we've really got to work on, kind of coalesce into a working unit."