July 19, 2009

Fall Outlook: Tight Ends

With Wisconsin's fall camp only a matter of weeks away, BadgerBlitz.com takes a look at the individual position groups. Today, our continuing series takes a look at the tight ends. Obviously losing Travis Beckum takes away an extraordinary talent, but with the development of young players and the return of Garrett Graham, the position looks to be rather strong entering August.

Departing Starters: Travis Beckum
Returning Starters: Garrett Graham
Top Reserves: Lance Kendricks, Mickey Turner and Jake Byrne
Freshman Impact: Brian Wozniak and Jacob Pedersen

Post-Spring Depth Chart:

Sr. Garrett Graham (6-4, 248)
Jr. Lance Kendricks (6-4, 237)

Tight End
Sr. Mickey Turner (6-4, 250)
So. Jake Byrne (6-5, 245)
So. Rob Korslin (6-5, 254)

Overview: After a spring practice leading into last season was filled with nagging injuries throughout, the tight end position gained valuable depth and experience with its younger talent. Then, as summer turned to fall, the injuries continued to add up when Graham and Beckum both suffered hardships that would prevent them from operating at their highest level throughout the season.

Finally this past spring, the position was able to make strides as most everyone was healthy throughout the 15-allotted practices. From the get go, the senior leader Graham made it known what a special talent he is when healthy. Whoever the quarterback winds up being will have a proven pass catcher with a big, powerful body to handle tough situations. Although he was an adequate blocker throughout spring practice, Graham concludes he could do better.

"I've really focused on blocking better," Graham said during spring practice. "My footwork and getting off the ball at the snap and just trying to become an overall better player with basic fundamentals."

Joining Graham at the position is Kendricks. When Beckum suffered a season ending leg injury midway through the year in 2008, Kendricks filled his void rather well. He is a very athletic player that will undoubtedly stretch defenses this fall with his speed and uncanny ability to make tough catches.

"I think Lance has really come a long way," Graham said. "He's been doing a great job. He's strong, fast and can stretch the field and make good catches. So I think we'll be seeing a lot of him."

Finally, rounding out the group is Turner, who plays a more traditional tight end role and even motions into the backfield for certain packages and plays, and Byrne, a young product entering his second season with UW.

The Pro: Graham. At his size, (6-4, 248), Graham will easily be the biggest target for the Badger quarterbacks. He is athletic enough to go up and make a catch off the ground and disciplined enough to remain strong and hold onto the ball when in traffic.

In the red zone, he is the ultimate threat as opposing teams cannot afford to forget about him. His blocking is not spectacular, but it is more than adequate and that allows the running game to function at a high level. When the running game is working well, Graham and the passing game will also benefit.

The Rising Star: Kendricks. Because he is so fast, many have compared Kendricks' talents to those of Beckum. That is quite a high honor for Kendricks considering the career Beckum had. After replacing his mentor when Beckum suffered a broken leg, Kendricks showcased his ability to perform at an extremely high level before suffering an injury himself.

With a healthy and productive fall camp, Kendricks will begin 2009 as one of the most exciting players of the Badger offense. Throughout spring, he showed he can make both the expected and spectacular plays which could lead to a breakout season.

Battle To Watch: Where will Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wozniak fit in? As true freshman, it will be interesting to see how both young players games will translate to the college level. Pedersen is an athletic freak that kind of went unnoticed throughout the recruiting process and Wozniak, a prospect from Ohio, possesses great size and speed.

With so many players in front of them on the depth chart, it will likely be tough for either of them to see much game action. However, if they perform well enough, they could possibly make it into special teams packages. Only time will tell.

Expectations: Wisconsin has utilized the tight end position as well, if not better, than any other Big Ten program throughout recent years. Several players that have come through the program at the position have gone on to make an impact on NFL rosters.

This season, yet again, the position looks to be one of the strongest of the team. With the multi-talented Graham and speedy Kendricks flanking either side of the ball, this position should excel yet again in 2009.

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