Tight End U or Offensive Line U? That is a debate for a later date, but the truth is that at Wisconsin the tight end position has been one of the most important positions over the past decade. It's also true that as of late that position has become a pipeline of talent to the NFL.
Will that continue under Andy Ludwig and his new offensive system? Well, if he's a smart man (and there's every indication he is) he'll find a way to use the best talent on the field to win football games and that includes some very talented people at the tight end position.
Luckily this group is pretty stacked heading into 2013 and should be the least of the offensive staff's worry. However it will be a getting to know you by fire time this spring as yesterday the Badgers hired Jeff Genyk to replace the departed Jay Boulware. Genyk is an experience coach of both tight ends and special teams and I'm sure he'll love working with what could be the deepest position group not named running back.
That's because the Badgers return the Big Ten's Tight End of the Year and a first team All-Big Ten tight end in Jacob Pedersen, who enters his last season in the cardinal and white. It's also because there are some very experienced players behind him that will all battle for the 2nd tight end position.
Lost, but not forgotten: None
Starter(s) Still Here: Jacob Pedersen (RS Sr.)
Pedersen obviously is one of the best tight ends in the Big Ten, if not the country heading into 2013. While the overall stats may not have been stellar in 2013 that had more to do with the revolving door at quarterback and the changes all around the offense than his abilities. In fact he became one of the most important players down the stretch where he had 12 receptions for 156 yards and 2 touchdowns over the final five games.
New Faces for Spring: None
Battles to be Had: 2nd tight end
Good luck picking the other tight end the Badgers will use this year. It really depends on who can emerge as a true blocking option, something that Pedersen as increasingly improved upon, but he's too big a weapon in the passing game to just stick in and block all the time.
Could it be someone like Sam Arneson, who was a key player at times in the redzone last year? That's a possibility for sure.
Also in the mix are two players who get their final shot at making an impact in seniors Brian Wozniak and Brock DeCicco. DeCicco has been a ton of promise, but little in the way of production and Wozniak could be the answer Wisconsin fans are looking for following the loss of Jake Byrne before last year as the blocking tight end specifically.
There are also some intriguing options that were deeper down the depth chart last year and could see a rebirth of sorts under new coaching and those are sophomores Austin Traylor and Austin Maly. They are both guys that have the bodies to be great pass receiving tight ends, but questions about the blocking side need to be answered and could be the one area to really watch for this spring.
Name to Watch: Sam Arneson (Jr.)
Arneson could be up for a break out year after showing a lot of improvement in 2012 as a sophomore and could likely be the replacement in 2014 for Pederson. He had just 4 receptions for 19 yards last year, but 2 of the 4 were for touchdowns. He's likely to see even more time, especially if his blocking abilities improve and that's what you need to really look for this spring.