About three weeks ago, University of Wisconsin offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph had what he called “a brutally honest day” with left guard Jason Erdmann.
The sophomore suffered a neck stinger midway through fall camp, and while he had since recovered, Rudolph wasn’t seeing the same player on the practice field that had excelled throughout the offseason.
Just days after Rudolph told him it was “time to grow up,” Erdmann replaced starter Jon Dietzen, who has struggled with injuries this season, in the lineup late in the second quarter at Nebraska.
He’s also spelled Dietzen in the two games since, and with every appearance Erdmann’s providing more proof that he’s far from out of place when part of the Badgers’ first-team line.
"He really was playing outstanding in fall camp, and I really took a lot of notice,” Rudolph said. “It just kind of took him a while to get back up to that consistency of play (after his injury). And then a few weeks ago, he really did. He started to show up that way and brought that confidence on to put him in there, and he’s taken advantage of the opportunity."
While Erdmann opened eyes during the first few weeks of fall camp, some of his teammates said they started seeing major progress during spring practices earlier this year. Left tackle Michael Deiter said that’s when the game began slowing down for Erdmann and things started looking easier for the Richfield native.
One of Erdmann’s best attributes is his strength. He’s continuing to build back the power in his right arm since his August injury but said, "I know how to use my strength to my advantage, get my way around it."
His teammates even joke that Erdmann has a “thunder punch."
“On the back side of an outside zone, we teach a single, long-arm stab to open the defender’s shoulder,” right tackle David Edwards said. “(Erdmann), if he gets his hands on him, he blows him up, just with one arm. It’s pretty crazy to see. He’s really, really strong, and he’s really good at that. … He does that also with a jump set. So if he has a three technique in front of him and he gets one hand on him, it stuns him."
It served Erdmann well in his first meaningful action at Nebraska.
He entered the game for Jonathan Taylor’s 75-yard touchdown run just before halftime, and he helped open up room for UW to run on 30 of its final 32 plays, which led to three late touchdowns in a 38-17 victory.
“I thought I had a really good fall camp but going into the first couple games of the season, I didn’t really know (if I’d play),” Erdmann said. "And then going in at Nebraska, a hostile environment like that, the first game I had real meaningful reps, I could see pretty well that I could hold my own here."
The Badgers will likely continue to play both Dietzen and Erdmann at left guard. The split doesn’t appear to be all about Dietzen’s injury concerns anymore, though.
Erdmann’s performed well enough to push Dietzen for his spot, and the competition should only make both players better.
“Those two, when they’re both in there, I think they’re equal right now,” Dieter said. "I think Jason’s doing a really good job. He’s done a good enough job to earn that spot. So I really think either of those guys could play a full game for us, but it is nice to get them both in there, get them good reps and keep them both healthy."