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Wisconsin football 2015 preview: Will Troy Fumagalli break out at tight end?

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A solid group of tight ends could grow even deeper if Troy Fumagalli becomes the next great Wisconsin tight end.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

By now, you've read about Wisconsin's receiver situation and how the Badgers haven't had a second option step up since Jared Abbrederis did so. The hiring of Paul Chryst, however, does hold potential for mitigating potential problems in the passing game -- even if the Rob Wheelwright hype train gets derailed.

One aspect that was key to the offense the Badgers employed while Chryst ran things as an offensive coordinator from 2006 to 2011 was a reliance on tight ends as consistent target sin the passing game. In those six seasons, tight ends led the team in receptions four times (2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010) and Garrett Graham was three catches off the lead in 2009.

So obviously, with the situation at receiver, there's no reason to think that Chryst will get away from that which brung him into the head coaching circles. After Sam Arneson's graduation, there's a unique opportunity at tight end, and if you've read the title, you know what the big question is here.

Troy Fumagalli was weirdly consistent as a target for the Badgers last season, building a 10-game streak over which he had exactly one catch per game. That was as a redshirt freshman. That is what makes the 14 catches for 187 yards better than what they sound like on the tin. This year, the expectations grow as he becomes a starter and a potential star in the making.

Elsewhere, it goes without saying that while Austin Traylor is likely the second tight end, he will see the field a lot. He's a quality blocker who put in the work to improve his hands as a pass catcher and reports out of spring practice labeled the coaching staff impressed. With the options wide open as to who gets targets, a second tight end flashing enough in the passing game is just as good of an option as anybody.

T.J. Watt has the name to get people excited if he doesn't have that ugly injury luck to deal with. He's a physically gifted player when he sees the field, but he missed time last season with a knee injury and missed most of spring ball with another injury. He may have been passed by freshman early enrollee Kyle Penniston.

By the end of spring ball, Penniston had flashed his hands and revealed his athleticism enough to be considered college-ready. One could argue he's already in the lead for the third tight end slot, but the Mater Dei, Calif., prospect is in contention to see the field from day one.

Leaders (2014 stats)

Sam Arneson: 29 catches, 387 yards, 4 touchdowns

Troy Fumagalli: 14 catches, 187 yards

Austin Traylor: 3 catches, 24 yards

Returning players

Fumagalli (RS SO), Traylor (RS SR), Watt (RS SO), Eric Steffes (RS JR), Sam Eckert (SO), John Damrow (SO)

Departing players

Arneson, Austin Maly

Additions to position

Penniston, David Edwards (Downers Grove, Ill., Comm District 99-North)

X-Factor: Troy Fumagalli

Fumagalli was the closest thing to a consistent third receiver for the Badgers last season and he will have every opportunity to add at least some semblance of a dimension to the passing game. Let's be honest: he was called a dimension-changing player by none other than uncrowned Heisman Trophy winner Melvin Gordon. There's no guarantee Fumagalli leads the team in catches, but he's definitely the highest-upside pass catcher the Badgers have who's shown even a scintilla of success.

This is also a position where you could see more than just Fumagalli being a factor. If Traylor builds off of his spring success, there could be another pass-catching option on third downs and for balance purposes.

Asking something of a true freshman is always a sketchy proposition, but Penniston is a gifted athlete and a top freshman coming in. As a third option, he could have something similar in vintage to Fumagalli's 2014.

The Badgers are deep and talented at the tight end position, but if they're more consistent as a group when it comes to being pass catchers, they could provide major help for the offense in 2015.