March 8, 2010

Spring outlook: Tight ends

MADISON - If Lance Kendricks continually performs the way he did in Wisconsin's impressive Champs Sports Bowl win over Miami, the Badgers will probably be just fine at the tight end position.

Even after losing standout Garrett Graham to a likely NFL career and blocking extraordinaire Mickey Turner to graduation, Wisconsin will still be stocked full of solid players to fill the role.

In UW's 20-14 win over the Hurricanes, Kendricks gave Badger fans a glimpse of what he will surely be capable of as the main, feature threat at the tight end position. He finished that game with seven receptions and a game high 128 yards receiving.

He possesses great speed and even better hands at a position that offensive coordinator Paul Chryst loves to get involved within the offensive sets.

Entering his final spring camp, Kendricks has an opportunity to shape himself into the next great, highly skilled Badger tight end. In doing so, he would likely earn a job that meets on Sunday's in the fall when he's through with his career at Wisconsin.

Joining Kendricks in the tight end fold will likely be two redshirt freshmen in Brian Wozniak and Jacob Pederson.

Wozniak entered the Badger program as a relatively touted prospect from Ohio last summer. Standing 6-foot-4 while weighing in at 242 pounds, Wozniak possesses great size. In his short time in the program so far, Wozniak flashed good catching skills and a growing knowledge of the playbook.

Entering spring camp, both those areas of his game, as well as his role as a blocker will be areas Wozniak focuses in on.

"I even thought coming here that I was going to be a catching tight end," Wozniak said during bowl prep last December. "But no, you've got to focus on your blocking and then you'll get your passes. Kind of like for every 10 blocks you get a good pass thrown to you. So that's kind of how you have to take it for a tight end."

It will be interesting to see what transformation Wozniak's body has undergone during winter conditioning. In December, he claimed he would like to play at 250 or 253 during spring camp, a weight that would allow him to potentially compete for playing time and withstand the rigors of a Big Ten season.

"I think it's needed to get through the Big Ten season," Wozniak said of playing between 250-253 pounds. "I think the strength is needed to get through the Big Ten season. Especially if you look at the defensive ends in the Big Ten this year. It was probably the year of the defensive end. Every team had a new and different guy that was just as good.

"So definitely strength and weight is good."

Jacob Pederson, another young tight end prospect is also looking to capitalize on a redshirt year and use the momentum gained during his developmental season entering a year of eligibility.

Like Wozniak, Pederson struggled to learn the playbook during the early portions of fall camp. But as the season progressed, both players started to feel a bit more comfortable.

"The first week, me and the other freshman tight end Jacob Pederson were wide-eyed for a little bit," Wozniak said. "The second week came in and we got into it a little bit more."

Pederson, a relatively raw and under the radar prospect from upper Michigan, possesses great size and will likely backup Kendricks at the H-back position. While Wozniak fits more into the mold of a Garrett Graham, Pederson, because of his athletic ability and speed is able to move around a bit more.

Look for big strides from both those young players as spring camps wears on.

Also in the fold is Jake Byrne, a third year player out of Arkansas. After injury kept the then sophomore out of a large portion of fall camp, Byrne looks to bounce back and have a solid spring camp with hopes of that catapulting the junior into playing time contention.

Like most other tight ends on the Badger roster, Byrne possesses great size that will give Scott Tolzien a big target to throw at during passing downs. Byrne is also a decent blocker at 6-foot-4, 260 pounds.

If he doesn't make an impact catching the ball you can bet he will find a way to open some holes for John Clay or make some noise on the special team units.

Rounding out the tight ends are Rob Korslin, Zach Davison, Michael Brunner and Jeremy Reierson. All four players will enter spring camp with a chance to compete for playing time at a relatively open position.

Projected depth chart:

H-Back:

-Lance Kendricks, R-SR
-Jacob Pederson, R-FR
-Jeremy Reierson, R-SOPH
OR
-Zach Davison, R-SOPH

Y-Back:

-Jake Byrne, JR
-Brian Wozniak, R-FR
-Rob Korslin, R-JR
-Michael Brunner, R-SOPH


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