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2014 Wisconsin football preview: Sam Arneson leads young, hungry tight end group

Two more tight ends from the 2013 Wisconsin Badgers are now trying to make their way into the NFL. So who will step up? Sam Arneson and a talented group look to take the bull by the horns and continue UW's tradition of impressive tight ends.

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Along with the defensive front seven, another position hit hard by eligibility attrition were the tight ends. Gone are seniors Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wozniak to the NFL -- both trying to make the roster down in "Badger South" with the Falcons -- and Brock DiCicco has exhausted his eligibility.

So who's left? A young but talented group of student-athletes who head coach Gary Andersen stated the coaching staff, notably tight ends coach Jeff Genyk, were comfortable with during his Friday press conference.

Senior Sam Arneson, though officially only having 10 receptions in his first three seasons, has seen plenty of snaps during his Wisconsin career. He is expected to be the true "mover" tight end (a hybrid position), while junior Austin Traylor will be the "anchor" -- or more standard, hand-in-the-ground "Y" -- tight end in those two tight end sets. As an analogy on those dreaded ACTs we all took, Arneson is to Pedersen, as Traylor is to Wozniak. Andersen noted Traylor's improvement through spring camp on Friday as well.

Joining the group, as was decided during the spring, was Derek Watt. When I discussed his new responsibilities with those positions after the 2014 spring game, he stated he will be involved in two hybrid tight end type roles - the U and the H-back. Among the differences Watt mentioned between the two hybrid tight end looks: the H-back, in a three-tight end set, runs more of the pass routes while the U-back will pass blocks. There are also differences in which back is to the call, while the other is away from the call. Needless to say, he'll bring experience to a group that outside of Arneson has not had many snaps on the field.

DEPTH CHART: TIGHT ENDS
YEAR HT WT REC YDS TD HOMETOWN
Sam Arneson SR 6-4 254 10 76 4 Merill, Wis.
Austin Traylor RS JR 6-3 248 0 0 0 Columbus, Ohio
Eric Steffes RS SO 6-3 259 0 0 0 Mount Calvary, Wis.
Austin Maly RS JR 6-5 250 0 0 0 Waunakee, Wis.
Troy Fumagalli RS FR 6-5 246 0 0 0 Naperville, Ill.
T.J. Watt RS FR 6-5 235 0 0 0 Pewaukee, Wis.
Sam Eckert FR 6-5 220 0 0 0 East Troy, Wis.
Derek Watt* RS JR 6-2 231 15 185 2 Pewaukee, Wis.

*Known as the starting fullback but will get reps at tight end

Most to prove

The entire group. Gone is Pedersen, who was the 2013 Kwalick-Clark Big Ten Tight End of the Year and ended his Badgers career with 17 touchdown receptions -- most ever by a Wisconsin tight end. Wozniak was a key blocker for Melvin Gordon, Montee Ball and James White the past two seasons, and provided quarterback Joel Stave with a red zone threat (five receptions in 2013 - four of them were for touchdowns).

Arneson, the lone senior of the group, will have to lead the inexperienced tight ends. They will be relied upon to produce some receptions, especially with Jared Abbrederis moving on to the NFL. Arneson, who said during Friday's media day he can play both the anchor and as the mover tight end looks, is confident that his position group will contribute to the Wisconsin offense.

"We're not as experienced as a group," Arneson said Friday during Wisconsin's media day, "but I think we're even more talented, and we're really looking forward to showing what we can all do."

X-factor

Derek Watt and Troy Fumagalli. Andersen referenced Fumagalli Friday as an intriguing player who's improved during the offseason and spring camps. Fumagalli, a redshirt freshman, also has appeared to put on some weight -- up to 246 pounds according to UWBadgers.com from 239 pounds in the spring.

"You look at what (Troy) Fumagalli did," Andersen said. "He did a tremendous job as we went through spring of growing into showing his ability to make plays through that position through the throw.

"Pass protection got much better and became more physical as a blocker. (I'm) Excited to see where he sits in it."

Watt provides the position an experienced blocker and another receiving threat. How they use him in the two hybrid tight end looks will show what he can do down the field, but also what new wrinkles they could bring to the offense.

Rest of group

Genyk should enjoy a very deep group of talented players. Steffes, Maly, and Watt will all have the opportunity to showcase their skills in camp starting Monday. Andersen noted the group as a whole's progress, but wants to see how they react on the field with less than a month away from LSU on August 30.

"We lack some experience there, but again I would hope that those young kids look at that and that excites them," Andersen said.

"We've got good numbers just like I talked about the whole football team and some kids that have definitely made some progress. But we'll see how they handle the aggressive defense in camp as they prepare for the season."

Quote

"It's a great group of guys -- some of my close friends -- and I'm really trying to help them out as the senior leader kind of now, and trying to give them an idea of what it's going to be like and what it takes to be a big time player, which we all hope to be." - Arneson during Wisconsin football media day Friday.

Did you know?

Not including Watt, the entire tight end group only has 10 receptions total for their careers, with Arneson catching all 10 of those passes.