Fall camp for the Wisconsin Badgers has gotten underway so it is time for us to speculate wildly as to what the divvying up of reps during practice means for the depth chart come August 30th. Over the next two weeks we will be previewing each position group so that you’ll have an idea of what to expect once the season actually kicks off.
We continue with the most injury prone group in our series of fall camp position previews: the tight ends.
For the Wisconsin offense to run at peak performance a few things need to happen. The offensive line needs to be good, which is almost never a problem, the running back needs to be gaining yards on first and second down, which is almost never a problem either, and of the two tight ends that start one needs to block well and the other needs be the quarterback’s security blanket.
The Badgers were heading into fall camp this year with Jake Ferguson as the tight end who would do the pass catching and Luke Benzschawel, as his last name would suggest, would be the tight end who did the blocking. This tweet is from Wednesday’s practice.
#Badgers have a TE problem. They have 9 on the roster but are down to 3 - Clay Cundiff, Jake Eschenbach & Seth Currens— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) August 14, 2019
Jake Ferguson (arm)
Luke Benzschawel (leg)
Hayden Rucci (arm)
Gabe Lloyd (leg)
Zander Neuville (inj)
Coy Wanner (inj)
Cormac Sampson saw time at OL & TE.
Even with the surprise addition of Zander Neuville earlier this month, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, the Badgers find themselves severely shorthanded at tight end.
Not all of these injuries are season ending, currently only Gabe Lloyd is out for the year, but starting the season this banged up at one position does not leave you with the most optimistic view of how they’ll play once the whistle blows.
2018 Statistical Leaders
- Jake Ferguson: 36 catches, 456 yards, four touchdowns
- Kyle Penniston: three catches, 18 yards, one touchdown
- Zander Neuville: one catch, three yards
- Seniors: Zander Neuville (6th year)
- Juniors: Gabe Lloyd (RS, out for season), Luke Benzschawel (RS), Seth Currens (RS, moved from ILB)
- Sophomores: Coy Wanner (RS), Jake Ferguson (RS)
- Freshmen: Jack Eschenbach (RS), Clay Cundiff, Hayden Rucci, Cormac Sampson (RS, currently OL/TE)
2019 TE Depth Chart
|Position||Pass Catching TE||Inline Blocking TE|
|Position||Pass Catching TE||Inline Blocking TE|
|Starter||Jake Ferguson (currently hurt)||Luke Benzschawel (currently hurt)|
|Backup||Jack Eschenbach||Zander Neuville (currently hurt)|
|Third String||Hayden Rucci (hurt)/Clay Cundiff||Hayden Rucci (hurt)/Clay Cundiff|
|Fourth String||Seth Currens||Cormac Sampson/John Chenal (FB)|
2019 Position Discussion/Overview
So I guess the first thing we need to talk about is the health of this group. If the Badgers can get everyone healthy, and ready to play, before the conference opener on September 21st against Michigan...they should be in good shape.
If they can’t?
Well, a lot of guys who might not be quite ready for primetime will be seeing the field in some important games. You’ll note on the depth chart above how many players are currently spending more time in the training room than they’d like.
Wisconsin has been using sophomore John Chenal more and more as a fullback/h-back in practice. Will be interesting to see if this trend continues with the depth at TE taking another blow. Benzschawel appeared to be in a lot of pain and was not putting weight on the leg. https://t.co/qFn8nFyvAN— Matt Belz (@savedbythebelz) August 12, 2019
John Chenal has the potential to fill in as a blocker when the Badgers need one at the inline TE position and Cormac Sampson could come in when they want to go “jumbo” and blow some defenses off the line of scrimmage.
With injuries at tight end, redshirt freshman Cormac Sampson (#67) who was originally working with the second offensive line group during camp at tackle got some reps at tight end in individual and team work situations. pic.twitter.com/UrE95PTeZF— Matt Belz (@savedbythebelz) August 14, 2019
Now let’s look for a few positives at this position. Ferguson is a burgeoning star as a pass catcher. He was second on the team last year in receptions and has been receiving a lot of early praise from outlets naming all-conference teams, earning a third-team spot on both Athlon and Phil Steele’s teams.
The Madison native, and grandson of athletic director Barry Alvarez (WHAAAA?!?!?), will be counted on heavily to convert key third downs and to help whoever ends up under center feel more comfortable. If Ferguson were to be lost for any significant period of time the Badgers might just play with seven offensive linemen.
The Badgers may also be forced to look for contributions from a pair of true freshmen. Clay Cundiff and Hayden Rucci both arrived on campus this year with some nice numbers and accolades in high school. Rucci seemed to be ahead of Cundiff based on reps that our own Matt Belz saw, but then the injury bug bit again.
Rucci has his left arm in a sling and Benz was on crutches from what I saw.— Matt Belz (@savedbythebelz) August 14, 2019
Both players would be seen as “blocking” tight ends this year but they each appear to also have potential to move into the pass catcher role in the future.
Benzschawel’s injury seems serious and Neuville probably wouldn’t be ready to play until the aforementioned Michigan game at the earliest. So the Badgers may have to go with whoever is able bodied to start the season and hope that slowly but surely guys get healthy.