MADISON, Wis. - The Wisconsin offense has utilized the tight end position more than any other Big Ten program in recent years. With players like Travis Beckum, Owen Daniels and Jason Pociask cycling through, it only makes sense that their talents were used as offensive threats.
Thus, it also makes sense that the several tight ends stacking the position this spring hope to keep the momentum going. If so, this position will easily be the strongest on the team this fall.
It was clear from the first day of spring practice that Garrett Graham was the leader of the unit. By shunning the likes of a potential early NFL career, Graham returned for his senior season where he hopes to build on his First-team All-Big Ten nomination last fall.
For the quarterbacks, he has proven to be a reliable target that gets off the line in quick fashion and isn't afraid to cross the middle and make himself vulnerable to big hits. At six-foot-four, Graham is one of the bigger targets on the offensive unit. And, at the same time, his size allows him to be a force when blocking opponents.
"I've really focused on blocking better," Graham said toward the end of spring practice. "My footwork and getting off the ball at the snap and just trying to become an overall better player with basic fundamentals."
With Beckum now out of the program, it seems Lance Kendricks will likely assume his role as the explosive playmaker with great speed. Kendricks missed a large portion of the 2008 season with a broken leg, but was able to return to play in UW's bowl game against Florida State.
That toughness also helped him recover faster and be better prepared for the seven-week strength and conditioning program the Badgers went through under new coach Ben Herbert.
Throughout spring, Kendricks displayed serious jumping ability and desire to go after a ball at its highest point. He has speed that linebackers will have difficulty matching and has great hands. He will see plenty of balls thrown his way this fall.
"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."
Mickey Turner fulfills the more traditional tight end position and stays away from the prototypical H-back spot that both Graham and Kendricks man. Throughout spring ball, Turner has motioned into the backfield and played a decent amount of reps at the fullback position.
He possesses a big body that is able to bruise with opposing defensive linemen and linebackers as the lead blocker. He is also a reliable check down receiver but doesn't have the ability to stretch the field like Graham and Kendricks do.
"Mickey Turner, he's always been (a) solid and reliable guy," Graham said. "He's been playing a little fullback and doing his thing."
After coming to campus early a season ago, Jake Byrne finished his second spring practice of his young career. He will likely spell Turner at the traditional tight end spot throughout the season. His size, like Turner's is a great asset to the Badger offense. Byrne has received plenty of reps and has flashed reliable hands. His blocking off the snap will likely improve with time, but he should see some action on the field this season.
Rounding out the group is Rob Korslin who will likely see most of his time on the special team unit this fall. However, after Graham departs following the season, his reps as a tight end should increase.
The tight end position, like in years past, will arguably be the strongest position of the entire offense. The quarterbacks seem to have good chemistry will most of the tight ends, especially Graham and Kendricks. Another big year for Graham could land him on an All-American team or two. Meanwhile, Kendricks has the ability to have a breakout season in 2009.
Don't be surprised to see sets where three tight ends, (Graham, Kendricks and Turner) are in on a given play.
Projected Depth Chart:
-Garrett Graham, SR.
-Lance Kendricks, JR.
-Zach Davison, FR.
-Jeremy Reierson, FR.
-Mickey Turner, SR
-Jake Byrne, SO.
-Rob Korslin, RFR.
As mentioned above, Turner will likely motion into the backfield and add another fullback in certain sets. But the regular fullback battle seems to belong to Dex Jones and Sam Spitz. Sophomore Bradie Ewing will also likely factor into this position when he recovers from his injury that kept him out the entire spring.
After losing both Chris Pressley and Bill Rentmeester last season, the position will have a new identity. Both Jones and Spitz are young, but have strong bodies that will be capable of opening holes for John Clay and the rest of the Badger backs.
Throughout the allotted 15 practices this spring, Jones received some reps at the tailback position, but that was more to give the three backs a bit of a breather. Still, the coaches have kept it a possibility that Jones will receive carries from the fullback position.
"They've told me to be prepared," Jones said when asked if their had been any talk of him getting carries. "Just with Clay, Zach Brown an Erik Smith, we're actually three running backs. In the Big Ten, that's kind of short, so just in case someone gets banged up, you're always
.one play from having to step in and make plays."
Both Jones and Spitz will likely see time in the backfield this season. They could be intertwined together much like Pressley and Rentmeester were over their careers. Also, Turner will also be sent back there in certain sets.
When Ewing comes back from his injury during fall camp, he will likely battle to get himself in the rotation with Spitz and Jones.
Projected depth chart:
-Dex Jones, RFR.
-Sam Spitz, FR.
-Bradie Ewing, SO.
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