MADISON – Bob Bostad has not forgotten the 2009 season when Wisconsin, due to injuries and illnesses, had to use three centers.
That memory, along with the recent departure of Cormac Sampson, led Bostad to make an intriguing move before the UW opens preseason camp on Wednesday.
Tanor Bortolini, who has played center, guard and tackle and is arguably UW’s most versatile offensive lineman, works as the No. 2 center behind Joe Tippmann.
“You have to have guys there,” Bostad said of the critical central position. “You just don’t plug (someone) into that.
“We have to build depth and quality there. It’s going to be good there. I can see that. We have to keep doing that with the loss of (Cormac). We are really in a race now.
So, at least for now, Bortolini will back Tippmann rather than compete to start at one of the guard positions.
“It’s really important to have two guys you can trust in the middle,” Bortolini said. “It’s not a place where you can just throw the guy. You need to know the identifiers and the adjustments you are going to make.
“Center, you have to know the whole offense. So I think that helps my learning from other positions.
“I’m sure I’ll have work in other places. It’s up to Coach Bo. It’s his decision. »
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Tippmann started 11 of 13 games at center last season. He missed the spring ball while recovering from left shoulder surgery. He missed spring training in 2021 after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder.
“I have two new shoulders,” joked Tippmann. “Pretty bionic so I’m good to go. I’ve got a lot of metal in there.
Bostad, who returned to the offensive line after coaching inside linebackers since 2017, believes Tippmann has the traits needed to lead the unit.
“He has excellent height and length,” Bostad said. “He’s got exceptional strength, which I think is a great splitter. He’s definitely smart. He’s into it. He likes it. Just a lot of really good stuff.
“I felt bad that he didn’t make it through the spring, but those are really good starting points.”
Bortolini has five starts at UW. He made his 2020 rookie debut at Iowa — center — and started four games last season. He started at left guard at Rutgers and started at right tackle against Illinois, Army and Arizona State.
Bostad, however, thinks Bortolini will be a better player inside. He plans to assess Logan Brown, Nolan Rucci and Riley Mahlman at right tackle.
“To me,” he said of building the No. 1 line, “it’s about the top five guys.”
Bortolini could eventually crack the No. 1 unit, but for now he will focus on creating a legitimate No. 2 center at UW.
He’s come a long way since making his college debut in 2020 in a loss to Indiana.
Bortolini hasn’t forgotten that surreal day he had to fill after starter Kayden Lyles suffered a knee injury.
According to Bortolini, Sampson was unavailable after dropping a weight on his foot during the week.
Bortolini wondered the day before the match who would take over in the center if Lyles went out.
“Then Kayden comes down and I look around the sideline (thinking): ‘Who’s coming in? Who is this guy going to be? “recalls Bortolini.
Someone on the touchline shouted: “Bortolini, warm up.”
“Oh my God,” Bortolini said. “I was walking there and my hands were shaking.”
Then left tackle Cole Van Lanen asked Bortolini if he was okay.
“Quite fine,” he said. “I’m freaking out. Oh my God…
“The first games were difficult. Ruined a few calls. But after that, it was just playing football.
The junior is better prepared to handle any mission now.
“Physically I’m much stronger,” he said. “You realize (quickly) that you have to develop your strength. You’re playing against guys who are four or five years older than you and have trained a lot harder than you.
“And mentally, I see the defense much better. Those things, along with experience, would really come in handy in a situation like this.