News and notes – 2003 starter Tony Paciotti missed all of spring with an injury…Owen Daniels worked out with the tight ends throughout the spring after practicing primarily with the receivers last season….Daniels and Jason Pociask spent the spring with the first offense while Joel Nellis and Kurt Ware worked out with the second team.
Spring MVP – Owen Daniels. The junior should be a significant part of Wisconsin's offense in the fall. He is still a blend between a tight end and a receiver—a fact that benefits the Badgers. Daniels' blocking improved tremendously since last season and he looked comfortable firing out of a 3-point stance as a Y-tight end.
Where he was really dangerous, no matter where he lined up, though, was as a pass receiver. Daniels played a role in all of Wisconsin's first-team offensive packages this spring, whether serving as a U-tight end, Y-tight end, split end or slot receiver. He made plays all over the field from every position. Daniels made tough catches over the middle. He stretched defenses down the seam and did the same along the sidelines on deep outs and post-corner routes. He showed off some agility on receiver screens and short possession routes. Daniels' route-running and body control are nearly unmatched among all UW receivers (Brandon White takes honors here) and he may have the best hands on the team. He will likely be on the field quite a bit next season and in all sorts of different ways.
Springing ahead – The Badgers ought to be very happy with this position's performance this spring. Jason Pociask took huge strides. He was an adept pass receiver and an improved blocker. Pociask primarily played Y-tight end with the first team but also slid back to his customary U-tight end position at times. He was Wisconsin's most explosive receiver the first week of spring practice and continued to make plays throughout the spring.
Kurt Ware made his share of plays throughout the spring and had a small opportunity to demonstrate his skills in the spring game, catching two passes for 21 yards. He has the speed to split the seam and above average hands.
Despite a solid spring, Joel Nellis will be hard-pressed to fend off Ware for the No. 4 tight end spot on the depth chart. But Nellis can certainly help the team, both for the depth he helps provide at the position and for his work on special teams. He recovered Paul Hubbard's muffed punt in the end zone during the spring game.
For that matter, watch for Pociask to shine on special teams. He made solo tackles on the Cardinal squads' first two kickoffs during the spring game.
A good problem to have – Wisconsin has not exactly made the tight end a focal point of its offense in recent seasons but this group could provide a lot of production and presents quite a few possibilities. Paciotti remains a likely starter because he is an exceptional blocker but with Daniels' and Pociask's continued development, the top three will likely rotate, with Daniels often working in the slot in multiple receiver sets. Ware and Nellis help to make this one of Wisconsin's deepest positions.
Final thought – In addition to their improvement, the tight ends' production will likely grow by leaps and bounds next season due to John Stocco's presence at quarterback. The new signal caller may not be a seasoned veteran, but he spreads the ball around to different targets within the progression better than Jim Sorgi or Brooks Bollinger did….at least in practice.
Spring football wrap
Part 1 - wide receivers
Part 2 - defensive ends
Part 3 - offensive linemen
Part 4 - special teams
Part 5 - quarterbacks
Part 6 - running backs