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Previewing Wisconsin’s tight ends and fullbacks heading into spring ball

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Two key positions in Wisconsin’s offense will see some changes.

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NCAA Football: Illinois at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Two key positions for the Wisconsin Badgers’ offense, the tight ends and fullbacks, will see some winds of change heading into the 2019 season.

Wisconsin loses Zander Neuville and Kyle Penniston at tight end—the former exhausting his eligibility, and the latter deciding to leave the program and enter the transfer portal. Rising third-year player Jake Ferguson became a viable receiving threat in 2018, and another year of pigskin seasoning could reap even more benefits for the offensive unit.

At fullback, the Swiss-army knife of the offense last season, Alec Ingold, will likely play on Sundays at the next level after another productive campaign. Mason Stokke appears to be the next in line to continue the Badgers’ tradition of #FullbackCity.

Presumed 2019 spring roster for Wisconsin’s tight ends

  • Luke Benzschawel, redshirt junior (10 games, four starts)
  • Gabe Lloyd, redshirt junior (13 games)
  • Jake Ferguson, redshirt sophomore (13 games, two starts); 36 receptions, 456 receiving yards, four touchdowns
  • Cormac Sampson, redshirt freshman (one game)
  • Jake Eschenbach, redshirt freshman; did not play in 2018

Presumed 2019 spring roster for Wisconsin’s fullbacks

  • Mason Stokke, redshirt junior (nine games); four carries, 13 yards
  • John Chenal, sophomore (eight games); one tackle
  • Coy Wanner, redshirt sophomore; did not play in 2018

*All are 2018 stats

Check out our discussion about the tight ends with WOZN’s Zach Heilprin on a recent edition of Bucky’s 5th Podcast. Be sure to follow on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and pretty much everywhere where you listen to your favorite podcasts!

Tight ends to watch

Ferguson emerged last season in the passing game to rank second in the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. There are likely loftier expectations for him in that aspect of the game, along with continuing to improve his run blocking.

Behind him, Benzschawel will likely be the in-line tight end that Neuville excelled at. If he stays healthy—he missed three games last year and played in only five during the 2017 season—he could stabilize this position group further.

After those two, it will be interesting to see who stands out during these next 15 practices. An in-state walk-on, Lloyd has played in 21 games the past two seasons in cardinal and white, while Sampson—a former four-star player according to 247Sports’ standalone ratings (not composite)—saw time against Nebraska in his first year at UW.

Along with Eschenbach, another walk-on, this group will get reps in before incoming freshmen and 2019 signees Hayden Rucci and Clay Cundiff head to campus in the summer.

Fullbacks to watch

Stokke transitioned to fullback from inside linebacker before the 2018 season opener, and based on the UWBadgers.com article from early January from over two months ago, he appears to be in line to inherit the proverbial throne.

There is also Chenal, who burned his redshirt last season to play in almost two-thirds of Wisconsin’s games. Do not forget the Grantsburg product rushed for 4,578 yards and 65 touchdowns in his prep career.

Check out our discussion about the fullbacks with The Athletic’s Jesse Temple on a recent edition of Bucky’s 5th Podcast. Be sure to follow on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and pretty much everywhere where you listen to your favorite podcasts!

Why fans should pay attention to these positions this spring

Tight ends and fullbacks hold a special place in Wisconsin’s offense. We have seen just how vital they can be in recent years at both positions in head coach Paul Chryst’s scheme.

At tight end, Ferguson is the front runner and most notable player, but who steps up behind him in production and shows the development and improvement from last season will be something B5Q keeps track of during the eight open practices to the media.

I (Jake) like Benzschawel, who would have caught a 20-yard touchdown catch in the 2018 Pinstripe Bowl against Miami if not for a penalty wiping out the play. As noted in our “way-too-early” expectations for the group, the need to find someone to replace Neuville as the main blocking tight end is critical, and that same player needs to have some receiving skills that the former walk-on displayed. I believe Benzschawel can be that Badger.

For the fullbacks, I will focus in on how Stokke and Chenal maximize their reps during the next few weeks. The former wears No. 34, worn by Bradie Ewing and Derek Watt previously in their time at Wisconsin. Chenal found time on special teams last season, but how he enters his first set of spring practices and settles more into the position will be something to monitor. This position does so much for Chryst’s offense, so who develops and improves their ability to block, pass and catch will be something we keep track of.