Remember the tight end? While the position has not been a focus of the Wisconsin football team's offense in recent years, the tight ends are making strides during spring practice, which could equate to increased involvement in the fall.
Currently the unit has been working without last year's starter, senior Tony Paciotti. An injury has kept him sidelined for the spring practices but tight ends coach Rob Ianello expects Paciotti to train in the summer and be back in the rotation during the fall.
As a result of Paciotti's injury, juniors Owen Daniels and Jason Pociask have been able to get extra reps. Both Daniels and Pociask have been working with the first-unit offense this spring, rotating between the Y-tight end and the U-tight end, or H-back, positions.
After working as a receiver and a tight end last season, Daniels has focused more on his tight end duties this spring. He will look to build on his 15 receptions and two touchdowns from last season and continue becoming a pass-catching threat. Daniels biggest strides, though, may be in the area of blocking. He said he has added about 10-15 pounds to his 215-pound frame since the end of the 2003 season. Daniels was not counted on for his blocking last season but this extra weight and greater strength will aid him in improving his blocking skills.
"I see more strength, I see more awareness blocking wise," Ianello said. "I see him just understanding from a blocking standpoint of where he's supposed to be with his target and his feet and his hands. He's embraced the role and working hard in the weight room. He's going to gain weight, he has already, but we want him to gain the weight the right way so it stays on. So we'll just keep moving him at that pace."
Even though he is now labeled as a tight end, Daniels will continue to be involved as a receiver and will split out wide. He commented that when the offense goes with four receivers and no tight end, he will be the fourth receiver.
Besides Daniels switching roles, Pociask will also make a minor leap at his position. Last season he worked primarily as the U-tight end but now he is working on the line for point-of-attack blocking as the Y-tight end. Like Daniels, Pociask is also trying to add strength to his 6-foot-3, 250-pound body.
"I'm just focusing on trying to get better at the Y-tight end," Pociask said. "I want to be more physical, I don't have a really big frame or a lot of weight so I got to be physical and quick off the ball and just try to focus on more of my routes too."
With Paciotti out, Ianello has been pleased with how Pociask has filled in at tight end.
"He's really been a good point-of-attack player," Ianello said. "He's done a good job blocking and he has developed some leadership for the group and stepped up and I can't be more pleased than I am with him."
Daniels and Pociask have been getting the most attention at tight end, but the reserves have also received a chance to develop this spring. Redshirt freshman Kurt Ware and junior Joel Nellis have been rotating in with the second-team.
"They've been getting a whole lot better," Pociask said regarding Ware and Nellis. "Kurt especially the past few practices it looks like he's been doing a lot better adjusting and starting to get like the main idea of things. When you first come in here that's kind of your problem, you don't really know exactly what the coaches want and that's the hardest thing. I think Kurt has done a good job. Joel has always been pretty fundamentally sound and I think he's doing a good job of helping the younger guys."
With Paciotti healthy in the fall and Daniels and Pociask involved in the rotation, the tight ends could start to see increased involvement in the offense once the season kicks off.
"I think before I came here, or maybe my freshman year, the tight ends were pretty involved," Daniels said. "We got good athletes there; me and Jason are pretty good pass threats against the defense. Paciotti is a great run blocker so we're just trying to make strides here each day so we can get more involved."