Fall Camp Preview: Tight Ends

The fourth of our nine-part series, Badger Nation breaks down each position in the first Wisconsin fall camp of the Gary Andersen era. Today, we examine the tight ends, a group that has three seniors ready for action, including the 2012 Big Ten Tight End of the Year.

This is the fourth in a series of nine previews leading up to the Wisconsin football team's Aug. 5 start of practice.

July 28: Quarterbacks

July 29: Running backs

July 30: Receivers

Today: Tight ends

Aug 1: Offensive linemen

Aug. 2: Defensive linemen

Aug. 3: Linebackers

Aug. 4: Defensive backs

Aug. 5: Specialists

Projected starters:Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wozniak (redshirt seniors)

Key backups: Brock DeCicco (redshirt senior), Sam Arneson (junior), Austin Traylor (redshirt sophomore), Austin Maly (redshirt sophomore)

Departed Players: None

The breakdown

It was thought that with wide receiver being a question mark a year ago, Jacob Pedersen could be in line to have a monster season. Although Pedersen was second on the team in catches to Jared Abbrederis, he didn't have the year most fans, and himself, were expecting. Pedersen managed only 27 catches for 355 yards and four touchdowns, yet somehow still managed to win the Big Ten Tight End of the Year Award.

Last season the Badger tight ends only averaged 2.85 catches a game; a number that should increase because new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig's tight ends at San Diego State last season averaged 4.61 receptions a game. The Badgers' offense will also use up to three tight ends in certain formations to help elevate pressure on the receivers.

"I think the diversification is very challenging for a defensive coordinator," first years tight end coach Jeff Genyk said during spring practices. "In our case to have four, maybe five, guys that can line up at all three positions at tight end, either on the line, off the line or blocking responsibilities, to be a threat in the passing game with multiple formations, diversity and gap formations.

"The challenge is to be able to play all three and not get focused on only having to do one responsibility. To be able to play all three, that's what we are attempting to do is really juggling the young men and understand the concepts of the play."

With Ludwig using the tight end more in his offense than offensive coordinator Matt Canada, it has the Badgers tight ends excited for this coming season.

"I think it's going to change a little bit," Wozniak said during the spring. "You look at Coach Ludwig's track record with tight ends, he love throwing to his tight ends. I don't want to compare them too much, but he likes tight ends like Coach Chryst likes tight ends. He's going to get us the ball and I think we're going to improve in the passing games. I can see us catching 20, 30 more passes this year."

Hopefully that will be the case since the Badgers – much like last year - still are not sure who will play opposite of Abbrederis, and people are looking at Pedersen's direction.

Named to the John Mackey Award watch list for the second consecutive year, Pedersen was limited during spring practices, but has been putting in the time during the offseason to build off his junior year.

"Maintain my weight and get my body fat composition down so I can be more explosive, stronger in the running game and be faster in the passing game," Pedersen said after the spring game. "Basically I want to work on coming out of my breaks more and be prepared to run some deeper routes than I would have been in years past. But also work on my game overall which is blocking, working on my footwork, making sure I'm playing with tight hands. If I play with tight hands and good technique I'm usually pretty good, but I have to get that to every play."

The tight ends are getting use to a position coach for the second straight year. After Eddie Faulkner left for North Carolina State and Jay Boulware abruptly resigned to take a job the same job at Oklahoma, Gary Andersen hired Genyk, who coached at California the past three years. For the tight ends, the transition has been easy so far.

"Genyk is very confident," Wozniak said. "If we drop a ball, he tells us we're going to get the next one. I love that about him. I love that he has our back. He puts us on every special teams he has and wants to get us out on the field. I really respect that out of our coach."

While Pedersen and Wozniak (9 catches, 94 yards last season) being the top two tight ends on the depth chart, Arneson should also see plenty of snaps this season. Arneson appeared in 13 games a year ago and had four catches for 19 yards and two touchdowns, but he showed improvement as the season progressed. Arneson could reach double digits in receptions this year because of the offense's three tight end formations.

One Burning Question: Can Pedersen improve his numbers from his junior season?

Pedersen should see his numbers improve from a year ago because Ludwig, like former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, wants to get the most out of his tight ends. Even if Jordan Fredrick or Kenzel Doe take a step forward this year and become consistent passing threats, Pedersen should have more of an impact in the passing game. Pedersen has all the tools to put together a great season and help Wisconsin's passing attack.

Biggest Strength: Experience. This year the Badgers' top four tight ends all have playing experience, will all see time and, with Wisconsin using multiple tight end sets, it will be a huge benefit to the offense.

Biggest Problem Area: Building Depth. Despite being set at the tight end position with three seniors, the future could be a problem. Arneson will be the only player returning with any experience next season, meaning it will be important to get some of the younger tight ends some game experience. Entering 2013, Austin Maly, Austin Traylor and Eric Steffes have not seen any significant game action.

Final Thought: In order for Wisconsin to have success on offense this year, the passing game will have to improve. The offense should fit better with the tight ends and should make an early impact. If they don't, it could be easy to stop the Badgers on offense this year.

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