Spring preview: Tight ends

Wide open competition will take place as Badgers look for replacements across the board

Starters returning: None

Other key returnees: None

Starters departed: Owen Daniels (eight starts in 12 games; 22 receptions for 268 yards and four touchdowns) and Jason Pociask (12 starts in 13 games; 7-79-0).

Other key departures: Joel Nellis (1 start in 13 games; in the depth all season, No. 2 tight end when Daniels was injured).

2005 position coach: Paul Chryst

2006 position coach: Bob Bostad

Spring storylines

The Wisconsin football team is effectively starting from scratch at the tight end position. The Badgers' top three tight ends were seniors last year, and there is not a single returning player who has garnered significant playing time at the position.

Daniels emerged as a very good pass-catching option the past two seasons. Pociask was an underrated all-around player whose consistency and productivity were of high value to UW. Nellis was the consummate role player: hard working, solid blocker. The trio will be very difficult to replace, leaving the Badgers with a major question and concern heading into spring.

The most experienced returnee is sophomore Sean Lewis. Originally recruited as a quarterback, the 6-foot-7 Lewis converted to tight end during his first season on campus and has played the position on the scout team since. He played sparingly in games last season. Lewis is a big target with decent athleticism and good hands, who has shown improvement but still had a ways to go to approach the level of a Pociask or Daniels.

Actually, the most experienced football players at tight end this spring are Andy Crooks and Travis Beckum, but each is making the jump from defense.

Crooks was a part-time starter at middle linebacker as a true freshman in 2004, but he played sparingly last season after Mark Zalewski moved from sam to mike ‘backer. Crooks, a solid athlete with good size, was originally recruited as an H-back type, but was moved to linebacker due to the Badgers' needs at the time and his exceptional play at the position in high school. He is a leading candidate to fill Pociask's role as a primary blocker and secondary pass-catching option at tight end.

There is no shortage of athleticism or talent at the position, just a dearth of experience and refined skill.

Consider Beckum, who was Scout.com's No. 1 ranked defensive end prospect for the class of 2005. Beckum began his UW career at strong-side linebacker, and worked his way into the lineup on the short-yardage defense. He then converted to defensive end due to the Badgers' needs and played sparingly, before a knee injury effectively ended his season. He then requested the move to tight end. Beckum is an exceptional athlete who could thrive at tight end if he can learn the position's nuances.

Fellow class of 2005 recruits Garrett Graham and Jae McFadden redshirted for UW last season. Along with Beckum, they just might be the three fastest, most athletic tight ends UW has ever had.

Sophomore Bill Rentmeester, who split time at fullback with Chris Pressley after Matt Bernstein's season-ending injury, could also help out at tight end, potentially as an H-back or even as an in-line player.

Also in the mix is third-year sophomore Dave Peck.

There is considerable talent at tight end and no real leaders for playing time. The competition this spring will likely be the most wide open of any position on the field, though wide receiver and tailback could have something to say about that.

Last season the tight ends commanded a more significant and versatile role under Paul Chryst's tutelage as tight ends coach and co-offensive coordinator. If a solid core of players emerges at the position, expect that theme to continue to develop with Chryst as coordinator and Bob Bostad as the position coach.

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