March 16, 2011

Spring outlook: Tight ends

A couple of years ago one of the more popular questions to pop up regarding the Wisconsin football team circled around replacing tight end Travis Beckum.

When Garrett Graham rose to the occasion, only to graduate following his big year, it shifted to who will replace the former All-Big Ten performer. Then Lance Kendricks had his turn in the tight end spotlight and roared through a stellar senior season.

Now, entering spring camp without Kendricks, that same question will likely arise.

Enter Jacob Pedersen, Jake Byrne Brian Wozniak and Sherard Cadogan. That quartet should prove to be pretty effective under the tutelage of tight end coach Joe Rudolph.

Pedersen, when Kendricks was nicked up, proved to be a sure-handed pass catcher when the ball was thrown his way. He caught eight balls for 132 yards during his first extended time in the rotation, including a couple of big grabs at Michigan State and against Iowa.

At this juncture, though he's probably not as fast as Kendricks was, it seems as though Pedersen will likely fill his void.

Byrne, who also saw plenty of reps as a more traditional blocking tight end, will also enter spring camp as one of the more experienced tight ends on the roster. Though he doesn't get many balls thrown his way, he does possess above average hands for a bigger tight end and continually impresses as a blocking tight end.

He could become a valuable security blanket for whatever quarterback breaks through and wins the starting job.

Beyond Byrne and Pedersen, the two most experienced tight ends returning to the squad, it will be interesting to see how Wozniak continued to work his way back following a somewhat serious shoulder injury suffered during fall camp of last season.

It will also be intriguing to see how Cadogan, a player with plenty of size and athleticism, handled his first winter conditioning program at UW and what type of benefit his body received through that phase of the off-season.

As the youngest player at the position entering spring camp, Cadogan has an opportunity to parlay anything he may have learned from the veteran players and build from it.

"It's been great just watching those guys play and just learning from them and watching Lance Kendricks and those guys," Cadogan said during bowl prep. "Playing on scout team, going against J.J. Watt has helped me a lot. Playing against one of the top defensive ends is going to help me a lot."

Cadogan, though he's fairly versatile, will likely follow the Byrne mold and become a featured blocking tight end as his career unfolds. It seems as though Cadogan has the drive to be successful as a blocking tight end, too.

"I've been working at it," Cadogan said. "I always feel it can get better, but you just keep practicing, working hard and going against J.J. and Louis Nzegwu and blocking them will help me a whole lot. I know the cut offs and different things like that.

"I'm just progressing."

At the 'Y' position, a battle between Byrne and Wozniak will be somewhat intriguing. Before he got hurt in the middle of fall camp, it seemed as though Wozniak was even with or possibly ahead of Byrne on the depth chart.

If he is truly healthy entering spring camp, it seems as though Wozniak will have another opportunity to make a push for playing time.

"I was definitely frustrated," Wozniak said during bowl prep. "One, I got hurt in spring ball so I didn't play a lot of spring ball. Coming into (fall) camp I was excited. Jake Byrne is doing a great job this year and he and I were fighting for that 'Y' position. When I got hurt I was upset and I got frustrated by that.

"I wanted to be out there playing."

Needless to say, Wozniak should enter spring camp plenty hungry to impress.

Finally, Rob Korslin, another big bodied tight end, will have a chance at plenty of reps during spring ball. If there was a sleeper pick for somebody to rise up the ranks, it would likely be Korslin.

He doesn't necessary do any one thing great, but he does a ton of things very well. He's an intriguing player entering his final year in the program.

PREDICTION:

With Pedersen being a bit nicked up and with the potential of him missing some time (albeit minor) it will be critical for guys such as Cadogan, Byrne and Wozniak to contribute. Without much depth entering the spring season at the position, it will also be essential for the guys getting reps to stay healthy.

Will a guy like Manasseh Garner move over to tight end if there are issues with injuries? Will he move over there anyway? There will be plenty of story lines at the tight end position, and a couple of solid positional battles to top it off.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART:

JAKE BYRNE - SR
JACOB PEDERSEN - R-SOPH
BRIAN WOZNIAK - R-SOPH
SHERARD CADOGAN - R- FR
ROB KORSLIN - R-SR

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