INDIANAPOLIS – Both Travis Frederick and Ricky Wagner may like the idea of playing for their home-state Green Bay Packers, but only one of the two University of Wisconsin offensive linemen were willing to say so on Thursday.
Both players were asked about the idea by reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine, and both could be options for the Packers, who could use a little help on their offensive line as the 2013 NFL Draft approaches.
Frederick, a center who’s projected as a late first-, early second-round pick, was born in Sharon, Wis., and played at Big Foot High School. Wagner, a tackle who’s viewed as a likely third-day pick, was born in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis and played at West Allis Hale High School.
The Packers currently have Evan Dietrich-Smith at center, having benched veteran Jeff Saturday in favor of Dietrich-Smith with two games left in the regular season. Saturday was released this week so he could retire with the Indianapolis Colts, and it’s unclear whether Dietrich-Smith is the team’s long-term answer at the position.
Asked if his friends and family are hoping he ends up with the Packers, Frederick replied, “Everybody has their own thoughts and hopes. I’m just excited to be able to get a chance to play in the league. I would say any of the 32 teams is going to be a great opportunity for me. And I’m going to be able to go out and make my mark on a NFL team and hopefully go out and play for a championship-caliber team.”
The Packers’ picture at tackle is murky as well. Starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga suffered a season-ending hip injury on Nov. 4, forcing undrafted rookie free agent Don Barclay into the starting lineup. The team’s 2011 first-round draft pick, Derek Sherrod, missed the entire season with a broken leg suffered in December 2011, and his future is uncertain. The starting left tackle is 2010 fifth-round pick Marshall Newhouse.
“I think that would be a great situation for me,” Wagner said of the idea of playing for the Packers. “I’m a home-state guy, I grew up a Packers fan, so I’d definitely be happy with that team.”
The 6-foot-6, 309-pound Wagner started 10 games at right tackle as a sophomore before shifting to left tackle in 2011, where he started all 14 games. Last season, he started 13 games at left tackle but missed one start with a knee injury. He worked at right tackle at the Senior Bowl last month but believes he could play either side in the NFL.
“It’s been a little bit of a transition after two years. It’s just going to take a little bit of time if that’s where I end up playing,” Wagner said. “We’ll see.”
The 6-foot-4, 338-pound Frederick started four games as a true freshman in 2009 (two at center, two at left guard) before taking a redshirt year in 2010. He returned in 2011 and started 13 games (11 at left guard, two at center) before starting all 14 games last season at center. He opted to come out for the draft with a fifth year of eligibility remaining.
Frederick said he spoke with Atlanta Falcons center Peter Konz, who went in the second round of last year’s draft, before deciding to forgo his final season at UW, but both Frederick and Wagner said they talked more with Kevin Zeitler, the former UW guard who was Cincinnati’s first-round pick last year and wound up starting all 16 games for the Bengals, earning all-rookie recognition.
“I leaned on Kevin a little bit more than Pete, but it was an important part to me to be able to reach out to the other Wisconsin alumni that are in the NFL and get their experience one, in the NFL, and two, their experience at the Combine and just what it takes to move from a college player to a professional,” Frederick said. “All of those guys presented some really good advice and helped me get to where I am today.”
And where Frederick and Wagner are today is on the verge of being the 15th and 16th UW linemen selected in the NFL Draft since 2000. Wagner’s predecessors at left tackle, Cleveland’s Joe Thomas and Chicago’s Gabe Carimi, were first-round picks of their respective teams, while Frederick was part of a group of guards and centers that included Konz, Zeitler, Seattle’s John Moffitt and Detroit’s Bill Nagy. Carimi, Moffitt and Nagy were all taken in the 2011 draft before Zeitler and Konz were the first two Badgers picked last year.
“You want to continue this legacy as long as possible,” said Wagner, a former walk-on who said he watches lots of tape of Thomas – a six-time Pro Bowler – from his days at UW. “I know we’ve got me and Travis out here this year, and we’re trying to keep that tradition alive. We want to join those guys and have a brotherhood.”
Frederick impressed reporters with his sense of humor – “(People) ask if Big Foot is Sasquatch and if I am actually the mascot,” he joked about his high school while pointing to his long beard – and figures to impress scouts with his versatility. He and Wagner will get another chance to show NFL scouts what they've got at the school's on-campus pro day on March 6.
“It’s a dream come true to be here,” Frederick said. “I was a young player coming out of a 550-kid high school in a little town in Wisconsin. To grow up and have an opportunity like this is a dream come true. I didn’t have a lot of offers going into college or anything like that. I was kind of a non-recruited player and got a chance. Wisconsin gave me a great chance and then prepared me extremely well for this opportunity. So you want to be able to do everything that you can to give back to that program that’s given you so much.”
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