Spring wrap-up: Tight ends

Part 2 of BadgerNation.com's 11-part look at the 2005 spring football practice season

News and notes — Two-thirds of Wisconsin's 2004 tight end triumvirate returns and will share starting duties: Owen Daniels and Jason Pociask. Stepping into the rotation in place of Tony Paciotti is a third senior, walk-on Joel Nellis. Pociask continued to play primarily in the H-back role, while Daniels was the in-line tight end. Redshirt freshman Sean Lewis, converted from quarterback late last season, emerged as the No. 4 tight end, followed by classmate Dave Peck.

Spring MVP — Owen Daniels: Really, the tight ends were rather quiet throughout spring, which was a little surprising for what is the Badgers' deepest position. Likely for that reason there was less emphasis on working them into the mix in scrimmage sessions, but do not take this as a sign of things to come. Daniels will be one of the UW's top receiving options, and possibly its most prolific playmaker outside of Brian Calhoun. Daniels still has the athleticism and receiving skills to pressure defensive backs and maintains the ability to line up in the slot or split out wide, but he is no longer a tight end/receiver tweener. Daniels has developed the size and strength to hold up well as an in-line tight end, and was solid blocking at the point of attack or on the move when pulling, an important facet of a tight end's repertoire in the Badgers' running game.

Springing ahead — Largely a depth chart afterthought prior to this spring, Joel Nellis is set to receive regular playing time this fall. As the third tight end, Nellis will play often in a blocking-first role, both as an in-line tight end and as a wing or H-back. But he also consistently displayed commendable receiving skills. Nellis is not going to win many foot races, but he runs adequate routes and has good hands. His solid-to-strong blocking, though, is what will get him on the field.

After struggling to adjust to playing quarterback at the college level, Lewis has looked fairly natural at tight end. With his 6-foot-7 frame, improving strength and good athleticism, Lewis was a tough matchup in the red zone. As a result, he made a habit of catching touchdown passes in scrimmage drills. Barring injuries, he will have a tough time earning significant playing time this fall, but as the No. 4 tight end heading out of spring, Lewis has positioned himself as the very early favorite to start at the position in 2006.

Pressing questions — The questions at tight end are not truly pressing. Rather, they revolve around the position's many strengths and they will not be answered until September and beyond. How exactly will the Badgers take advantage of Daniels within the context of Paul Chryst's adjustments to the offense as the new passing game coordinator? Will the position be a bigger part of the offense than it was last year?

Though he remained a reliable blocker, Jason Pociask struggled at times as a receiver, with too many dropped passes. Pociask has been a very reliable pass catcher in practices in the past, even if he has been little used in games, so this seems like an anomaly.

Looking ahead — Again, with three reliable seniors, who each brings a different, positive, skill set to the field, this is the Badgers' deepest position heading into the fall. Daniels may well be the best returning tight end in the Big Ten, Pociask could start for most teams and Nellis is a solid role player.

Looking long term, Lewis' emergence bodes well for 2006 and Dave Peck looks like he could develop into an adequate player by then as well, but there will certainly be openings for incoming freshmen prospects Garrett Graham and Jae McFadden. Defensive line prospect Jeff Stehle could also serve as a short yardage tight end in the years to come.

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