MOBILE, ALA. — Towering over defensive ends and overpowering them with his mauling approach to the game, Wisconsin offensive tackle Rob Havenstein isn't looking to rack up style points as a blocker.
Havenstein, a Mount Airy native, plays the game with an edge, using his large hands and big frame to lock out heavy defensive linemen and drive them into the ground.
Now, the 6-foot-8, 327-pound former all-state selection from Linganore is hoping for an NFL career as he practices this week at the Senior Bowl all-star game. Projected anywhere from the fourth to the fifth round by NFL scouts and draft analysts, Havenstein's roots go back to playing for Linganore coach Rick Conner.
"It helped a whole bunch, because that's where I learned the basics of playing football," Havenstein told The Baltimore Sun on Monday in advance of his first day of practice Tuesday for a North squad being coached by the Tennessee Titans staff. "When I first came into Linganore and started playing football, that was my first experience with organized football. I learned so much from coach Conner. The biggest thing was the mentality, the hard work, coming to work every day with a lunch pail and a hard hat on."
Those lessons were on display with Havenstein for the Badgers after he emerged as one of the top recruits in the state of Maryland. A National Honor Society student, Havenstein helped lead Linganore to a 14-0 season and a Class 3A state title in 2009 before he signed with Wisconsin.
Havenstein played in a Wisconsin school-record 54 career games, including 42 starts. He was named to the All-Big Ten Conference first team this past season. In four seasons, Havenstein blocked for three 1,000-yard rushers: Montee Ball, Melvin Gordon and James White.
Havenstein went 39-16 in his career. And Wisconsin set a school record with 320.1 rushing yards per game to rank third nationally this past season with Gordon frequently grinding out yards while following Havenstein on the right side.
"Rob is a classic right tackle," said Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage, a former Ravens executive and Cleveland Browns general manager. "He's not the prettiest player, but he's effective and he comes from a school that's produced a lot of linemen over the years. It will be interesting to see if the coaches try to move him to guard to show more versatility."
Wisconsin has practically built an assembly line as far as producing NFL offensive linemen, including Browns tackle Joe Thomas, Dallas Cowboys center Travis Frederick, Atlanta Falcons center Peter Konz, Cincinnati Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler and Ravens right tackle Rick Wagner.
"Obviously when I came in there, there was a huge lineage already," Havenstein said. "All I wanted to do was block and make my mark and be a good Wisconsin offensive lineman."
Although Havenstein has his own traits as a lineman, he hopes to model his game to an extent after Wagner.
Wagner was an unheralded fifth-round draft pick by the Ravens in 2013 who graded out as one of the top right tackles in the NFL in his first year as a starter before he suffered a season-ending foot injury with one game left in the regular season. Wagner allowed only two sacks in 15 games and provided several key blocks on touchdowns as the Ravens set franchise records for yards gained and points scored.
"Absolutely, just the way Ricky went about his work, he was a very quiet guy, not outspoken, but he showed up every day and was the same guy every day," Havenstein said. "You don't want to be an All-Star one day and a junior varsity or a high school guy the next day."
Quick to smile and joke around, Havenstein built a reputation at Wisconsin for having fun off the field while being all-business on the practice field and weight room. Havenstein also cut off his long hair last summer to make a donation to Locks of Love in honor of his mother, a breast cancer survivor.
"Obviously, you've got to have fun playing the game," said Havenstein, who graduated with a degree in communications in December. "I have a ton of fun playing the game. It's my absolute passion. I crack a couple jokes here and there. Obviously, you don't want to be joking around on the practice field and have a bad practice because of it. When the time is right and you're hanging out with the guys and having a good time, that's the time to do that and have some laughs."
This week marks a key moment for Havenstein because it represents a prime opportunity for him to prove himself in front of all 32 NFL teams against fellow future draft picks.
"I want to show that I can get to the spot in pass protection, and that my hands are good enough to play at the next level and handle the mental aspect of the game and learn an NFL playbook," Havenstein said. "This is awesome, obviously. This is a great opportunity. This is the game you want to be invited to, and I was fortunate enough to get that invitation."
Oregon junior quarterback Marcus Mariota declared for the draft even though he hasn't signed with an agent. Although Mariota has an open invitation to participate in the Senior Bowl, Savage said he's not expecting him to show up. … The Senior Bowl is the equivalent of an NFL job convention this week with dozens of out-of-work coaches and executives trying to land jobs. That includes former New York Jets executive Terry Bradway making the rounds Monday after being fired last week by new Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan. "I think it's the greatest job fair in the football world," Savage said. "Everyone is here." … Savage cited Arizona Cardinals rookie quarterback Logan Thomas as a good example of why players should participate in the Senior Bowl. A fairly raw former Virginia Tech standout, Thomas was drafted in the fourth round after struggling mightly last year at the Senior Bowl. "Logan Thomas didn't have a good week on the field, wasn't impressive at all," Savage said. "He still went in the fourth round over a number of quarterbacks who didn't come here for different reasons. The only players that hurt themselves by coming to the Senior Bowl are those that didn't belong in the first place and would be found out anyway." … Besides Havenstein, local players in the game include Penn State offensive tackle Donovan Smith (Owings Mills) and safety Adrian Amos (Calvert Hall). Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson, a River Hill graduate who played in high school with Ravens wide receiver Michael Campanaro, withdrew from the game for non-injury reasons. … Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall is in the game as a quarterback, but he could project to defensive back, running back or wide receiver in the NFL. "The Jaguars might do some wrinkle things with him," Savage said. "Remember they drafted Denard Robinson and he started out as a quarterback and became a running back. Nick will primarily be a quarterback 99 percent of the time this week."