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Depth at tight end takes pressure off Wisconsin's offense

Jacob Pedersen leads a very deep group of Wisconsin tight ends.
Jacob Pedersen leads a very deep group of Wisconsin tight ends.

Bret Bielema was hesitant to criticize his young quarterbacks after they struggled in Saturday's scrimmage, instead pointing out the positives in their development. The same can't be said about the Badgers' young group of receivers, who have very little experience with Jared Abbrederis out or limited for the rest of spring camp. Bielema expressed a bit of frustration with his receiving corps after practice Monday.

"I can tell you what they've been consistent in not doing, which makes them consistent, I guess," Bielema said.

However, Bielema was quick to offer a solution to Wisconsin's passing game woes, praising what is becoming a very crowded group of tight ends for what they can bring to the offense. Obviously, the ability to block is important for any tight end in the Badgers' run-first offense. But Bielema pointed out their value in Wisconsin's passing game as well, citing Wisconsin's win 2010 Champs Sports Bowl win over Miami -- in which Lance Kendricks caught seven passes for 128 yards -- as evidence that a lot of teams struggle to cover tight ends. If Wisconsin can get production out of its tight ends, it should take pressure of its young group of receivers

The Badgers have quite a few options at the position for the upcoming season. Jacob Pedersen, who was a full practice participant for the first time this spring Tuesday, will be back and will likely receive a heavy share of targets in the passing game, but Wisconsin also returns two blocking tight ends with in-game experience in redshirt junior Brian Wozniak and sophomore Sam Arneson.

Additionally, the Badgers have two promising redshirt freshmen tight ends, Austin Traylor and Austin Maly, who earned Bielema's praise Tuesday. Maly looks could be a big part of the passing game in future seasons, and Traylor has the makings of dominant blocker after reshaping his body over the last eight months.

"Since I’ve been here, I’ve gained 35 pounds," Traylor, who is now listed at 240 pounds, said after practice Tuesday. "I think it helped me a lot. Compared to last fall, I’ve played a lot better and I've been able to compete with the defense at this level. The weight has helped me be able to make blocks."

The Badgers also will have Pittsburgh transfer Brock DeCicco, who Maly called "one of the best blockers we have," available to earn some snaps at tight end this season, and three incoming freshmen tight ends as well.

The incredible depth the Badgers have at tight end has undoubtedly made the jobs of new offensive coordinator Matt Canada and new tight ends coach Eddie Faulkner a bit easier. Traylor said the unit "hasn't missed a beat" during the coaching transition, and Maly said it's even brought some excitement to their unit this spring.

"I like their energy. They’re a younger staff, obviously. They just have energy. Coach Faulkner is always jumping around, giving you high fives. But he’ll get on you if you do something wrong too," Maly said.

Having an seasoned veteran like Pedersen, whose route-running has served as a model for younger pass catchers like Maly, helps too. Pedersen isn't necessarily the vocal type, but he says he's wiling to take on a leadership role among Wisconsin's deep but young group of tight ends.

"I try to lead by example. I’ll talk to them when I have to, try to pick them up if I have to," Pedersen said. "But I try to just do my thing and teach them everything I’ve learned up to this point to help them increase their games."