Lucas at Large: Burge, Costigan battle it out at right guard

In January, Kyle Costigan and Robert Burge each found themselves in Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema's office at different times for different reasons.

Costigan was summoned there to talk about moving from defensive tackle to offensive guard.

Burge went there to quit the team. He had grown tired of playing football.

"I really didn't want to do it anymore,'' said Burge, a fifth-year senior from Holmen, Wis.

Bielema's response?

"He told me to give it a couple of days,'' he said.

How difficult was it for him to even broach the topic of quitting with Bielema?

"It was on some levels,'' he said. "On some levels, it wasn't. I had already made up my mind.''

Less than 48 hours later, Burge had a change of heart.

"Something just clicked,'' he said. "I wanted to do it again within that couple of days grace period that he gave me. It just clicked back on for me, so I decided to come back.''

FB_120818_Burge_Robert.jpegBurge is most grateful today that didn't leave the team seven months ago. Costigan is grateful, too, for the opportunity to compete for a starting assignment at right guard ... with Burge, no less.

"In January, when Coach B called me up to his office,'' Costigan remembered, "it was not like he forced me (to make the switch) or anything. He asked if it would be something that would interest me.''

Why not? Costigan had been recruited out of Muskego High School to play on the offensive line.

That's where his UW career started as a freshman redshirt during the 2010 season. In early September, he was even named the offensive scout team player of the week for the UNLV game.

But the Badgers were thin at defensive tackle, so Costigan moved to that side of the ball. In late November, he was honored as the defensive scout team player of the week for the Michigan game.

A year ago, Costigan was in the defensive tackle rotation and appeared in three games -- he had two tackles against Northern Illinois -- before suffering a foot injury that ended his season in September.

So what sold him on making the switch back to offense last January?

"Coach said it would help the team,'' he recalled. "Obviously, I said, 'Yes' to helping the team.''

Costigan and Burge have been engaged in one of the more competitive position battles in training camp. There has been an ebb and flow on who takes the most reps with the No. 1 offense.

On most days, it has been Burge. On Friday, it was Costigan.

Factoring into the guard competition has been Burge's versatility to play tackle. Thus, he offers depth chart value and insurance as a backup to starting right tackle Rob Havenstein.

"No matter what happens, we're making each other better,'' Costigan said. "Even though we're competing, he's still really friendly and helpful when I mess up with the mental aspect of the game.

"He has a positive attitude about everything.''

After Tuesday's practice, Burge was asked about his walk-on status.

"It's been pretty tough on my family taking out loans and I know I have a bunch of (student) loans,'' he said. "It would be nice to get a scholarship, but whatever comes is whatever comes.

"I have to live with it. I'm not expecting anything.''

That same night, Bielema announced to the team that Burge was going on scholarship.

"I didn't believe it at first, 'Did he just call my name?''' Burge recounted. "I started smiling and I almost teared up, almost, I came that close. It was awesome. I really didn't expect it.''

Since the start of camp, Burge expected to get pushed by Costigan. "Kyle is very gifted physically,'' he said, "and that's pushed me to work harder and change my style of play.''

Change how? "Be a bit more mean, I guess,'' he said.

Does that mean be more aggressive? "More aggressive, yes,'' he answered.

Has he been too laid-back at times? "I would say that,'' Burge admitted.

That may have been a byproduct of being a career backup, he conceded.

"I've always had guys like Kevin (Zeitler) or Ricky (Wagner) in front of me,'' he noted.

FB_120818_Burge_Robert_2.jpegThat all changed in the spring. "I knew I had a shot after Kevin was gone,'' Burge said of Zeitler, a first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals. "I knew that I would have that opportunity (to play).''

That entailed a mental adjustment. "I've definitely been more aggressive,'' he said.

As such, the 6-foot-7, 320-pound Burge has tried to "play stronger and with a lower pad level.''

That can be problematic for someone his height, especially at guard. But he has an understanding of leverage thanks to the eight years that he spent training in Tae Kwon Do.

When he was 16, he gave it up to concentrate on playing high school sports.

"I was a red belt, one belt away from a black belt,'' he said. "I just couldn't push it to get the black belt. But the karate has helped me a lot with my coordination and striking ability.''

That discipline may have also helped Burge deal with some adversity last season. As one of the blockers in the protective shield in front of punter Brad Nortman, he had a couple of costly breakdowns.

"I just kind of put it behind me,'' Burge said of the memory of blocked punts in losses at Michigan State and Ohio State. "It's something that happened and something I learned from.''

Knowing now that he could have an impact as a potential starter on the offensive line, Burge has tried to learn as much as possible from his more experienced teammates like center Travis Frederick.

"I know Travis has always given me tips that have helped me out a lot,'' he said.

But, then, so has Wagner whenever he has lined up at tackle.

What about the difference in playing guard or tackle?

"You've got to be more physical on the inside because there are a lot bigger and stronger guys,'' Burge said. "On the outside, you've got to use more finesse and move your feet a little better.''

During the offseason, once he re-committed to playing football, Burge reshaped his body.

"I started to eat better, not as many pizzas and sodas; I ate a lot more fruit and vegetables,'' he said. "I know Coach B has said that I looked like I had slimmed down, but I kept the same weight on.''

There's no question that Burge has waited a long time for this opportunity to be a contributor.

"I just have to keep playing like I've been playing,'' he said. "I've had one or two middle-of-the road days. Most of the rest of the day, I've been pretty on. So has Kyle. We've been competing well.''

How has Frederick tried to facilitate an easier transition for Burge and/or Costigan?

"When I give my adjustment calls, I make sure they know where they're going,'' Frederick said. "Just because they're switching in and out (at right guard), you're not getting as much time together; you're not getting as used to each other.

"I try to give them as much as I can as far as the (pre-snap) adjustments instead of assuming they know  -- a lot of times they will -- but just because of the continuity issues I want to give them the best opportunity that they can have.''

Frederick has not appreciably changed his game to accommodate one over the other, either.

"It's very similar between the two of them,'' he said of Costigan and Burge. "We've switched around so much that you get used to playing with everybody. It gets to the point sometimes when you don't know who's playing next to you, if you don't get a peek at him.''

Frederick, though, has not forgotten Costigan from his days as a defensive tackle.

"That's something I don't miss,'' Frederick said. "He's probably one of the strongest, if not the strongest, player on the team. I'm glad to have him on our side of the ball instead of banging heads with him all the time.''

Costigan's experience as a defensive lineman has already been put to good use.

"What I personally hated going against, I can use as an advantage now,'' he said. "I can see the changes in their stance by how much weight they're putting on their hand. I know all the nuances of defensive line play and I have an easier time seeing that stuff.''

Does he play on offense with the aggressive mentality of a player on defense?

"I'd definitely say that I have that tenacity,'' Costigan said. "But it gets me into some rough places sometimes. I'll be pass-protecting and I'll want to lunge at that guy but I have to be patient. I have the mindset that I want to attack. But if you lunge, that's a defensive lineman's dream.''

Costigan is candid about his strengths and weaknesses. "I feel like I'm a good run blocker,'' he said, "and I'm having the most trouble in pass protection. It's something I've never done before. I've never backed up from a person. That's taking some getting used to, but that's improved a lot.''

To hone his rough edges, Costigan has watched a lot of film on Zeitler. "I want to mimic what he does,'' he said.  "I want to play like he plays. But he's such an animal. It's hard to mimic a first round draft pick. He played the position for four years here. I can't copy everything right off the bat.''

In addition to the advice that he has received from Zeitler, Costigan has gotten some pointers from former UW center Peter Konz, who was very good at pulling and leading interference on sweeps.

That's part of his new job description. Although he wrestled just one year in high school, Costigan has also been able to incorporate some of those lessons into the type of player he is today.

"Wrestling is still probably one of the hardest things I've ever done, and it has helped so much with my leverage and body position, '' he said, adding that the goal on the mat translates nicely to his goal on every snap. "Get inside (your opponent) and make somebody weak even if they may be strong.''

Until further notice, the Badgers are counting on strength in numbers at right guard.

That would be No. 54, Costigan; and No. 64, Burge.
ON WISCONSIN