When junior tight end Bob Docherty decided to leave the Wisconsin football team, the Badgers were left in the unenviable position of having a corps of players at the position with a total of one reception to their credit.
Under the circumstances, it would seem unlikely for the tight end position to be a significant component of the offense. With a team loaded at receiver and running back this may well be the case, but the potential is present for the Badgers tight ends to contribute in a variety of ways.
The team has four players who should receive playing time at tight end—junior Tony Paciotti, sophomore Jason Pociask, junior Mark Bell and sophomore combination receiver Owen Daniels. The Badgers use their ends in a variety of capacities and the members of this quartet each have skills that can suit given situations.
Paciotti is the starter. He is a punishing, near-dominant blocker who serves impressively as a sixth lineman in the running game, commendably taking on defensive lineman. This fall his blocking skills were constantly impressive. Paciotti started nine games last season and demonstrated those blocking skills on the field. He did not catch a pass, however. This season he should have the opportunity to become a possession-type receiver, a vintage short-yardage, outlet-style receiver in Wisconsin's offense. Paciotti has good hands and adequate route-running abilities.
Pociask will back up Paciotti and play frequently in two tight end sets, or in passing downs. He played sparingly last season, mostly on special teams, and did not record a reception. Pociask is a capable in-line blocker and an above-average blocker from the H-back or wing position, where he will line up frequently when both he and Paciotti are on the field. Where Paciotti excels with brute force, Pociask is more a tactician as a blocker. He particularly excels when pulling or blocking off of motion, essentially becoming a fullback-style lead blocker.
During fall camp, Pociask displayed a surprising ability to get down field and make plays. He has adequate speed and agility and very good hands. Pociask runs solid routes and seemed to have a very good feel for how to get open. It would be surprising if he is not included in the passing game in some capacity.
The x-factor here is Daniels, who worked out as a wide receiver for the first week and a half of fall camp, then worked solely with the tight ends for a matter of days, then mixed between the two. He has done an incredible job learning two positions in a short time span and looks guaranteed of seeing playing time in a situational role with the first unit offense, despite the likelihood of being listed third team among both the receivers and tight ends. Daniels looks a natural fit at receiver; he shows no signs of having just picked up the position during fall camp.
Daniels will never be an in-line, conventional tight end. He may line up as an H-back, but even that would be rare. Daniels also could line up split wide, but most of his playing time will be from the slot or as a two-point-stance tight end. It is in the latter tweener role that Daniels can be found in some spread formations. No matter where he lines up, Daniels has excelled as a receiver. He has exceptional hands and body control, particularly impressive while under duress. He has very good size, ample speed and quickness and is a very strong receiver. He is a below average blocker, but he has improved mightily from that standpoint. Day after day, as readers of this fall's practice reports know, Daniels jumped out among a plethora of talented receivers and had a cornucopia of highlight reel plays.
Mark Bell is the only tight end with a catch to his credit. This came last season against Michigan State, when Bell caught a three-yard touchdown pass from Brooks Bollinger. Bell is adequate at each aspect of the position and is a capable reserve. He will most often receive playing time when the Badgers move to a three-tight-end short-yardage set.