Seeing Experience Growth

Wisconsin tight end coach Joe Rudolph doesn't hide his emotions very well, especially when talking about senior tight end Garrett Graham. Although Graham will be the main focus among UW's tight ends, Rudolph knows that his group has plenty of players capable of making some noise on the field.

Badger Nation: Do you as a coach love spring practice more or less than when you were a player?

Joe Rudolph: I always love spring football. It's fun. It's pretty neat. It gives the young guys a chance to emerge and guys to separate themselves from the pack. I think spring brings it's own pressure. There are some guys that haven't been asked to do a lot being on scout team. Now they are going to be thrown in there are the expectations are high. Guys that have played a lot are anxious to get better and some guys are fighting for more roles in the offense and some are fighting just to shine.

BN: Do you feel like you have everyone back after last season? Travis was there last year, but it was almost like he really wasn't with his injury problems.

JR: Yeah. I mean, last spring, we didn't have Travis at all or Garrett at all. It was Mickey Turner and Lance Kendricks and a freshman that had just graduated in Jake Byrne that was doing most of the stuff. Right now, I do feel like that. It's nice to have the guys healthy.

BN: You mentioned not having Garrett for the spring. He had such a good year despite his injuries that he flirted with going to the next level. Having him back for his senior year and in the spring, how important is this spring for his development?

JR: I think it's real important. Through the spring and into last year, Garrett missed a bunch of games and was limited in probably two or three other games. So having him through this period is really a time to teach and for him to get better not only fundamentally, but just in some of things you need to be aware of at the line of scrimmage. I am having a blast working with him right now.

BN: Having Lance step in when Garrett and Travis were out and having that game experience. He didn't put up big numbers after the Marshall game, but how important was that for him and could you see a change in his game after that playing time?

JR: What it did, both Mickey and Lance ended up playing a lot. They ended up not having to know there rules, but the rules of both positions and be interchangeable at times, which helps a lot. Those guys can do that now. They've experienced it. With Lance breaking his leg, shoot, probably about 10 or 15 plays after Travis broke his leg. Maybe a little bit more, but it was the next game and right at the beginning. The fact that he kind of had played, got in there, went through injuries, battled back, got back for the bowl game and played in the bowl game, he came a long way in one year just by having those experiences. That will help him a great deal. It will also help Mickey. Mickey is pretty smart kid that can do a number of roles, so both of those guys benefited from the opportunities.

BN: What kind of things did Travis leave behind in terms of his work ethic, his consistency, the way he prepared that has rubbed off on the tight ends that are here now? Can you see little bits of Travis in them?

JR: The thing that Travis left behind was his competiveness. He always felt that he was going to win the matchup he had and he brought that to the group. There is no reason he shouldn't be getting the ball on a certain route or he shouldn't be a target or a reason to not throw the ball. He brought that right away and really brought the idea of you can be excellent and open those guys' eyes to the fact that they could obtain those things. He left some lofty accomplishments behind that those guys are trying to strive for. We're sorry we don't have him, that's for sure.

BN: You mentioned the toughness and competiveness. How tough is Garrett Graham? A quiet guy but it seems like his toughness level has grown since Travis left.

JR: Yeah. Toughness is being consistent, it's when you're beat up and feel terrible that you still go 100 percent, it's never letting up, it's all those little things that mean a lot and that's Garrett. He's a tough guy. He battle through injuries all last year and showed up and played. He knew what to do and was strong mentally and physically. He is that. If you had to describe it, he would be a good example of someone that is tough on your team.

BN: You have a lot of younger tight ends going into their second year with Jake, Zach Davison and Rob Korslin in his third. How have they found their niche in this unit?

JR: They're fighting for those extra opportunities. That's what they are doing. They are fighting right now. Jake, from this time last year to this year, has come a million miles and has confidence in knowing what he is doing. Now, he knows his assignments and knows where he lines up and he's playing a little bit, which is fun. I expect a lot of big things from him as we move forward.

Rob is the same. He's pretty knowledge now going into his third spring. He's got to be a guy that can swing to both positions and be the guy that can step in and knows what to do, where to go and how to do it. Those guys are coming along and they are still finding their roles.

Zach has been playing a little bit more with backing up Lance a little bit and he's fighting to learn some different things. He just keeps pushing each day but when those guys have their opportunities, they need to stand out you know? That's what I keep looking for.

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