Area Of Concentration
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I've probably lied before about my education. Not that I lied on a resume - until I quit in February I had the same job since 1997 so I don't think I've even had a resume in 24 years - but I'm sure I've been at a cocktail party before where I told a fib about my diploma. I'll make this quick because it has nothing to do with what I'm writing about today.
As you've learned in the last year, in my former life I was a Landscape Architect. My degree from Illinois is in Landscape Architecture. Because I took the five-year track instead of the four-year track (who takes a four-year track?), I needed to add an Area Of Concentration. This is not a minor. Well, it's like having a minor. But it's not officially a "minor". The way I remember it, I had to take 20 hours of classes in one subject to consider it my Area Of Concentration. 30 hours would be a minor. I think. Can't really remember. Doesn't matter.
The point is that I'd tell people that my major was Landscape Architecture and my minor was Parks & Recreation. That's not exactly true. My major was Landscape Architecture and my Area Of Concentration was Leisure Studies. But the whole point was that I wanted to design parks, so I majored in LA and took a bunch of Leisure Studies classes that concentrated on outdoor recreation. That was way too long to explain, so I'd say "Majored in LA, minored in Parks & Rec - AND I DON'T MEAN THE TV SHOW" and then everyone would laugh and I'd take that moment to go get another drink.
It wasn't a lie, and it wasn't even an exaggeration - I just explained that I set up my education to be able to design parks. And then I designed some parks. And now I write about Illinois athletics. (This is also why I had seven classes with Kiwane Garris and we were the two best friends that anyone could have but that's another story for another post.)
All of that to land here: I'm pretty sure Bret Bielema's Area Of Concentration this past week has been the offense, specifically the offensive line. Feels like the only thing he's done. Here's a quick list of things we've learned in his first week:
- Alex Palczewski is returning for a 5th season.
- Doug Kramer is returning for a 6th season.
- Vederian Lowe is returning for a 5th season.
- Kendrick Green is forgoing his senior season (and his extra Covid season) and declaring for the draft.
- Tony Petersen will be the offensive coordinator.
- Bart Miller will be the offensive line coach.
- Brandon Peters is coming back for a 6th ("Covid rule") season.
Seems to me that this was the first step. Sort everything with the offense. Pick a scheme, find the coordinator, find an OL coach who fits, figure out which linemen are coming back, which ones are leaving, and who might be under center. There are still lots of other senior decisions to be made (Tony Adams and Nate Hobbs? What about Isaiah Gay and Owen Carney? What will Rod Perry do?), and there are tons of staff decisions yet to happen (are any assistants staying? If Cory Patterson doesn't stay will Cooper-Williams-Frenchie-Love all leave?), but for now, there's one area of concentration: the offense. Specifically, what happens up front.
What have we learned so far? Two main things, I think:
I'm 90% Certain We Know The Starting Offensive Line
This one seems fairly clear. The three senior starters (Palcho, Kramer, and Lowe) all announced they will return. The second-team All American (Green) announced he is turning pro. Verdis Brown will be a junior (actually, he'll be a sophomore again because of the Covid rule). And the FCS All American transfer from Wofford (Blake Jeresaty), who missed this entire season after having shoulder surgery, will return for his one FBS season.
So it seems to me that the starting OL will likely be, from left to right, Lowe-Jeresaty-Kramer-Brown-Palcho. 5th-year senior, 6th-year senior, 6th-year senior, 4th-year sophomore, 5th-year senior. I even know these numbers off the top of my head: 40 starts for Lowe, (FCS transfer with four years starting experience), 37 starts for Kramer, 8 starts for Brown, 40 starts for Palcho.
Now, that doesn't mean things will be great. It's a new scheme, it might not gel for a while, and this season wasn't exactly dominant. Plus, the best player just declared for the NFL.
But there's still lots of experience to work with. Which is often 50% of the battle on the offensive line. Takes years to get the size and strength to where you need it, so having a bunch of 23 year-olds on the OL will be quite helpful for new OL coach Bart Miller.
I'm Fairly Certain We're Wanting To Wisconsin Our Offensive Line
I think the hiring of Bart Miller cements this. If you're not familiar with the Mike Markuson/Bart Miller thing (the one I referenced on Twitter last week), here's the story.
Greg Schiano gets the Tampa Bay Buccaneers job in 2012. He immediately hires Wisconsin's offensive line coach, Bob Bostad, to be the Tampa Bay OL coach. Bret Bielema and Wisconsin need a new offensive line coach.
Bielema hires longtime SEC OL coach Mike Markuson to replace him. It's Wisconsin, so it's an attractive place for OL coaches. Markuson takes over for Bostad and ... lasts two games. After Wisconsin loses 10-7 to Oregon State in their second game, Bielema fires Markuson and promotes his offensive line graduate assistant - Bart Miller - to offensive line coach. At the time, it was discussed as needing to get back to the "Wisconsin Way". Miller knew the way they developed their linemen at Wisconsin, Markuson tried to do something different, after two games of it not working, Markuson was out and the GA was in.
And it mostly worked. That's the season where Wisconsin righted the ship midseason, tripped forward into the Big Ten Championship game at 7-5 (they won the "Leaders" division because Penn State and Ohio State were both ineligible), blew out Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship game, and went to their third consecutive Rose Bowl. They got back to being Wisconsin after early running struggles and ended up in the Rose Bowl.
SO, with the hiring of Miller as OL coach, that seems to suggest that Bielema does want to do things The Wisconsin Way with his offensive line. We knew that, but we didn't really know that yet, but now we KNOW that.
There's a lot more to discuss here (Petersen's scheme, the return of Peters, etc.) but I have a Zoom press conference with all of these people in seven minutes so I'm going to cut this off here. More later.
(Also, I'm out of town right now, so it might be later later, but I'll find some windows to write here and there.)