It could be argued that since the beginning of the Bielema era Wisconsin has become sort of "Tight End U," so to speak. They've had multiple players at the position go on to NFL careers with guys like Garrett Graham, Travis Beckum, and Lance Kendricks all having some levels of success at the NFL level. Well, 2012 could provide the Badgers with the most talented group of players the position has seen under Bielema from top to bottom.
We began our second week of previews leading up to the start of camp next Monday with a look at the Wide Receivers, a group that has potential but a lot of unknowns.
Unlike that group things are bit easier to map out as far as what we'll be getting from the tight end group in 2012. So, time to light up the campfire and talk some Badger tight ends in part five of our "Camping With the Badgers" series.
Jacob Pedersen (Jr., 6'4", 242lbs.): 30 rec, 356yds, 8TD's in 2011
Sam Arneson (So., 6'4", 255lbs.): no stats in 2011
Brian Wozniak (Jr., 6'4", 260lbs.): played in all 14 games, but recorded no stats (mostly special teams)
Thoughts on the Unit:
Wisconsin has itself another great pass catching tight end in Jacob Pedersen and it's actually hard to believe he's entering just his junior season. Pedersen is clearly the class of this group of tight ends, but he's not alone in the talent department to say the least.
There could be an interesting battle brewing for the 2nd tight end spot between true sophomore Sam Arneson and junior Brian Wozniak. They will look to replace a tight end in Jake Byrne who was strictly all about blocking on the 2011 squad. Both have much more to offer in terms of being pass catchers, but don't sleep on their blocking abilities either. If they can get good production out of them in the passing game, say 10-15 receptions on the season it will help ease the burden on a young wide receiver group as well.
Wozniak was banged up quite a bit throughout spring and that led to Arneson getting quite a bit of the work at the No. 2 spot and by all accounts he more than held his own and could serve as a great complement to Pedersen. There's no doubt that the coaching staff sees a lot of talent in Wozniak as he's often talked about by Bret Bielema and the rest of the offensive coaching staff in the past, but with a new group in he really needs to stay healthy, something that's been an issue most of his career so far and has seen his action limited mostly to the special teams part of the game. Fall camp is where he needs to step up and prove that he's finally healthy and that the talent can match up with the production from him. If so, we could have one of the better single position battles on the offensive side of the ball on our hands.
The interesting thing to watch for out of this position group is how it will be used by offensive coordinator Matt Canada. It's likely that we won't be seeing as many three tight end sets as we did with Chryst in charge of the offense, but the two tight end grouping is something we saw enough of in the spring to know Canada does plant to use the group often and for more than just blocking.
Behind the three we've already mentioned there's a very intriguing and equally talented group of tight ends that may push for playing time this season, making this one of the deepest units on the offensive side of the ball.
One guy that's not getting a ton of hype but needs to be looked out for is former Pitt Panther Brock DeCicco – remember he's the guy that we got in the Zack Brown trade…. um, I mean transfer (damn Packers practice got me thinking about the NFL). He's one big target at 6'5" tall and 246lbs., but he's also got good hands according to those that have seen him in practice. After sitting out a year it will be interesting to see how he adapts to life in the Big Ten and in one of the deepest groups of tight ends he's likely ever to see.
Others to Watch:
Austin Traylor (RS Fr., 6'3", 240lbs.)
– Traylor came in as one of the highest ranking members of last seasons class and was a four star recruit by Rivals. He's got a ton of athletic ability and a year to get his body bigger and get better at the blocking side of the game should have served him well. He's a guy with a lot of star potential to him, but it may be another season before we really see him unleashed on the Big Ten.
Austin Maly (RS Fr., 6'5", 230lbs.)
– Clearly he's the lightest of the Badger tight ends, but hey someone had to be amongst the group. But, he's also a bigger target with his 6'5" frame and good wingspan. Maly is a classic Wisconsin player, coming in from state powerhouse Waunakee High School (just outside of Madison), flying under the radar as a three star prospect, and now making noise alongside fellow redshirt freshman Traylor. These two could form a heck of a pass catching duo of the future for the Badgers, but it again may be another year before their full impact on this roster.