Tight end Kyle Penniston continues to make big leaps in the offense as Wisconsin completes its seventh spring practice

One of the main positions on offense that Wisconsin needs to build depth, redshirt freshman Kyle Penniston's performance the last two practices is putting him in the thick of the conversation for this fall.

MADISON – When the pads came on last week Tuesday, Wisconsin saw the blocking, hitting and physicality take a large step up. That was exactly what tight end Kyle Penniston was looking and hoping for.

Penniston’s strength was pass catch coming out of Mater Dei High School outside Los Angeles. He caught 42 passes for 550 yards and three touchdowns his final two seasons but wasn’t prepared to handle to the big defensive linemen in the Big Ten during his true freshman season a year ago.

It is one of the reasons enrolling early and redshirting was so important for him, as he bulked up 20 pounds and gained a physicality and understanding to be a factor in run and pass blocking.

“I feel (redshirting) let me grow, because it was a big jump between high school and college,” Penniston said. “I think I picked up the pace of the game better. Obviously I didn’t play, so I can pick up more bulk and muscle. I think I took pretty good advantage of it. It was a good learning tool for me.”

It’s evident that Penniston is more comfortable going through his second spring, especially since he was limited last year with a foot injury. After catching three passes in Saturday’s scrimmage, including a catch-and-run that went for 30+ yards, Penniston was active again Tuesday during UW’s seventh spring practice.

Lining up on the line and split out as a receiver, Penniston got physical in the blocking game and managed to catch a handful of passes over the middle of the field and along the sidelines.

“It’s a lot easier because I can just play,” Penniston said of the differences between this April and last year. “Instead of worrying if you have the right assignment or not, you know you have the right assignment and you can just go out there and execute it. It makes it a little easier and it’s a lot more fun instead of worrying if I have this right. Once you get it down, it’s a lot more fun.”

In fact, both Penniston and fellow redshirt freshman David Edwards made plays during Tuesday’s 7-on-7 drill, important steps for UW as it tries to add depth to a position that’s unproven behind redshirt junior Troy Fumagalli.

“I think both kids will play aggressive,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “Kyle stood out a little bit and made some plays. I think both at times are swimming a little bit. You see it at times with an offsides. Coach (Mickey) Turner has been doing a good job with both of them. I like those guys. If they don’t have a significant role this year, they will soon because they both compete.”

Throw in fifth-year senior Eric Steffes, redshirt sophomore John Damrow and redshirt freshmen Mitchell Herl and Michael Rolfe, there is a lot of eager players fighting for reps and opportunities in camp.

“I think we have a lot of competition,” Penniston said. “I think we all bring something special to the table. I think we all compete really well out here in the field and in the field room, but we are also all really good buddies. We all push each other and encourage each other. We all have a really good skill set. Some of us are better blockers and some of us are better receivers. By the end of spring, hopefully we’ll all be pretty well rounded and be efficient in the fall.”

Depth Chart Moves

Redshirt junior Joe Ferguson worked opposite sophomore Arrington Farrar with the starting safeties with junior D’Cota Dixon out with a groin injury.

Redshirt junior Alec James worked with the starting and second-team defensive line. James was the team’s starter in its third-down peso package a season ago. Redshirt junior Chikwe Obasih worked with the second team and rotated in with the starters.

The main second-team defense lined up as follows: Obasih OR James, Jeremy Patterson and Billy Hirschfeld on the line. Zach Baun and Tyler Johnson at outside linebacker. Ryan Connelly and Nick Thomas at inside linebacker (Dallas Jeanty and Chris Orr rotated in). Natrell Jamerson and Titus Booker at cornerback (Serge Trezy and Evan Bondoc rotated in during certain packages). Lubern Figaro and Keelon Brookins at safety

From the infirmary

Limited on Tuesday – OL George Panos (left shoulder) and fullback Austin Ramesh (groin)

Out on Tuesday – S D’Cota Dixon (left groin), OLB Garret Dooley (left thigh), WR Ricky Finco (head), OL Ben Hemer (head), WR Henry Houden (right thigh), RB Mark Saari (right hand), OLB Jake Whlen (right thigh)

Out for spring – QB Kare Lyles (left hip), DE Zander Neuville (right shoulder), OL Dan Voltz (right knee) TE Michael Rolfe (right knee).

Sophomore receiver Krenwick Sanders was injured early and left practice with a trainer. He did not return.

Quarterback Microscope

A mixed day under center for Bart Houston and Alex Hornibrook. During early team drills, Hornibrook went 4-for-5 on a 60-yard touchdown drive, hitting Jazz Peavy three times (including a 12-yard touchdown) and a 31-yard pass to Reggie Love. Houston went three-and-out with two incompletions, although a deep pass was dropped by Sanders.

Both quarterbacks went 4-for-6 in team drills, with Houston hitting Penniston down the field for a 27-yard strike and Hornibrook hitting a deep pass to redshirt freshman tight end David Edwards

Turnovers were limited to a tipped interception throw by Houston in team drills, a result of Peavy slipping to the turf and tipping the pass in the air from his knees trying to make a play (it resulted in a pick-six for Jamerson). Other than that, there were no dynamite completions but it’s easy to see the group has taken steps forward.

Extra Points: Wisconsin practiced inside the McClain Center for the first time this spring … Both running back John Settle and Rudolph complemented the work that redshirt sophomore Taiwan Deal has put in the offseason to give the unit more reliable depth at the position … Badgers return to the practice field on Thursday morning for practice eight of 15.

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