Spring Position Preview: Tight Ends

With the Wisconsin football team starting its 15-spring practice slate this week, Badger Nation dives into the position battles. Next, we focus on the tight ends, a position that basically returns all of its key contributors from last season and will be a focal point of the offense.

MADISON – A candid Paul Chryst hesitated when asked if there was any position he was the most comfortable with heading into Wisconsin's spring practices.

The Badger offensive coordinator's immediate response: ‘Not Really.'

But after thinking about it for a little bit, Chryst admitted, as long as they stay healthy, that the tight ends have him excited.

"When you think about it, we really didn't have Travis (Beckum) last year," he said. "So, we got them all back."

When you come to think about it, the Badgers didn't have senior Garrett Graham last spring either.

After the first-team All-Big Ten selection flirted with leaving early for the NFL Draft, Graham, the Badgers' leader in receptions (40), receiving yards (540) and receiving touchdowns (5) in 2008, will be the most experienced and most reliable target on Wisconsin's roster.

"When you think about Garrett, he is that smart, tough, dependable guy that you want to have in your offense," said tight end coach Joe Rudolph about Graham, who missed two full games last season. "He brings his hard hat and makes sure he gets it done, which makes him a guy that his teammates can count on."

Backing up Graham this year is sophomore Lance Kendricks, who stepped into the fold last season when Travis Beckum was out with a hamstring injury. Kendricks caught on during UW's first two games, including catching three passes for a career-best 96 yards.

After Beckum went down with a season-ending leg injury, Kendricks was called into duty again against Michigan State. This time, however, Kendricks wasn't as lucky, breaking his leg in the first half against the Spartans and missing the final two games of the season, but was able to return and partially contribute in UW's bowl game.

With a healthy Graham and Kendricks in the fold, the Badgers have a solid receiving tandem that UW's quarterback, whom ever gets the job, has to feel confident about. Throw in traditional tight end Mickey Turner into the equation, a durable junior that played in all 13 games last season, and the Badgers have plenty of experience in the fold.

"I'm anxious to see how the group and how they handle their new leadership roles," Rudolph said. "They already do a good job of handling their business and knowing how they fit into the system."

Other players that add to the Badgers' depth is sophomore Jake Byrne, who will be participating in his second spring camp at Wisconsin, walk-ons Rob Korslin and Ricky Wagner and redshirt freshman Zach Davison, a group that will give UW plenty of options should the injury bug bite the unit again.

"We have a lot of players that bring a lot of different things to the table and that gives us the flexibility to juggle different people and try different things," Rudolph said. "All those guys have opportunities to hit the field. It's going to be fun to interesting to watch them compete."

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