Listening to his Elders

Having studied under NFL tight ends Travis Beckum and Garrett Graham, junior tight end Jake Byrne has picked up enough tools and nuisances to make a push for Wisconsin's starting lineup.

MADISON - Jake Byrne is no fool when it comes to picking up tricks of the trade. Enrolling in the winter of 2008, Byrne watched carefully as Garrett Graham learned to play the second tight end role behind Travis Beckum.

A year later, he watched what it took for senior Lance Kendricks to provide the necessary relief to Graham.

"A lot of it came down to technique and doing the little things that you don't see," said Byrne, saying what he observed from his two predecessors. "They were great receivers in the pass game, and were always showing me the things to watch in coverage. After awhile, you can see things slow down for them."

Going into his sixth install camp at the University of Wisconsin, Byrne is starting to feel a once speedy game slow to his liking. Working with the first-team offense, Byrne has been solid in pass catching drills and in the minute details of the tight end position - the first step, the hand placement, the head placement – all reinforced by Tight End Coach Joe Rudolph.

"He's been great in giving me things he saw that you need help in, giving you drills to overcome those things and get better in," Byrne said of Rudolph. "It's just working it and repeating."

Byrne spent the majority of his summer watching film on Graham and Kendricks and watching his own practice film. The biggest thing he saw was the impact those two players created as soon as the ball was snapped.

"Those first two steps, you need to have good power and a good base," Byrne said. "It all starts on the line. Everything opens up after that."

The blocking lessons and film study have shown their value and made their impressions. Head Coach Bret Bielema identified Byrne as one of the return players to keep eyes on, especially with the success he's had going against junior defensive end J.J. Watt every practice.

"He's going against one of the better defensive ends in the country," Bielema said. "To see Jake hold his own and get the better part of J.J. says some good things about him …His maturity level had increased so much because of that extra semester."

Byrne has yet to make an impact as a tight end, playing in only three games, but has earned two letters from his work on special teams in 24 contests. Through four open media practices, Byrne and Kendricks have looked like naturals in the offense. Both are similar body types (both 6-foot-4, Byrne weighs 257, Kendricks 241) and both have spent this majority of their summer blocking and route running together.

"Lance is a great athlete and I think we can compliment each other," Byrne said. "I think he draws a lot of attention, and that opens up things for me and other receivers in the offense. I think me holding my blocks and being accountable helps him have a big season."

With his eyes set firmly on the second tight end position, the biggest increase in Byrne's game has been the biggest decrease. With the game slow down, Byrne is starting to feel like he is the next in line to contribute from the tight end position.

"I feel I have become a more complete player and consistent," Byrne said. "That's preached to us day in and day out. I can't go out one play and do really well and then screw up another one. If you can go in day in and day out and do your job, you've got a leg up. I feel like I am going in the right direction being a guy the coaches can count on."

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