Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst utilizes tight ends and fullbacks a great deal more than most coaches in the era of the spread offense. The Badgers main offensive strength is run blocking, so having a solid lead blocker at fullback is imperative. When they do throw it, the Badgers love to go to their tight ends and enjoyed the luxury of having four players now on NFL rosters playing that position at Wisconsin for the last eight seasons (Owen Daniels, Travis Beckum, Garrett Graham and Lance Kendricks). Although I’m not sure the Badgers have a tight end of that calibur on their roster this season, there’s still plenty of talent available.
TE Jake Byrne, senior
strengths: excellent run blocker, very strong
weaknesses: needs to prove he can be a reliable target in the passing game
TE Jacob Pedersen, redshirt sophomore
strengths: reliable red zone target, good size, good hands
weaknesses: needs to prove he can be a top target — especially in dowfield passing game, lacks speed
FB Bradie Ewing, senior
strengths: a well-rounded fullback, Ewing can lead block, catch passes or even carry the ball if necessary
weaknesses: at 6 feet and 230 pounds, Ewing has okay size but isn’t hulking — a very minor complaint
This is a very good group of unheralded but important players, and Byrne epitomizes this sentiment. The senior tight end has only caught four passes in his career, but he’s been blocking for Badger running backs for a long time. At 6-foot-four and 260 pounds, Byrne basically functions as an extra lineman in Wisconsin’s running play packages, and he’s very good in that role. He might not be a top target in the passing game like Wisconsin tight ends of the past, but I bet you didn’t know Byrne was credited with starting eight games last season.
Pedersen might be the most important player in this group and is certainly the most likely candidate to step into the pass catching tight end role Paul Chryst has had so much success with in the past. He caught only eight passes last season, but two of them were for touchdowns. Additionally, Chryst felt confident enough to target Pedersen on the ill-fated two point conversion attempt in the Rose Bowl. These two facts alone tell me Chryst is prepared to use Pedersen heavily in 2011, so don’t be surprised if he has a breakout year.
Although the Badgers don’t always use a fullback, Ewing is one of my favorite Badgers because he excels at everything he is asked to do. Lead block? Yep. In fact, Mel Kiper thinks he’s one of the best in the business at this particular chore. Catch passes? Sure thing. Ewing caught eight passes for 82 yards last season. Run the ball in blowouts? Mmhmm. Ewing did this too last season. Play special teams? You bet. He does everything.
With the possible exception of Jake Byrne clone Brian Wozniak, you probably won’t see these guys on the field in non-blowout situations, although Jason Hengel did catch four passes in the Wisconsin spring game.
TE Brian Wozniak, sophomore, 6-4, 256 lbs
TE Austin Traylor, freshman, 6-3, 220 lbs (possible redshirt)
TE Sam Arneson, freshman, 6-4, 245 lbs (possible redshirt)
TE Austin Maly, freshman, 6-5, 220 lbs (possible redshirt)
FB Jason Hengel, redshirt freshman, 6-2, 240 lbs
FB Sherad Cadogan, redshirt freshman, 6-3, 255 lbs
FB Derek Straus, freshman, 6-0, 225 lbs (possible redshirt)