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Post spring practice thoughts: tight end

After struggling to find bodies to play the position years ago, the room now seems deep and ready to make a difference.

jake ferguson Jake Kocorowski

The Wisconsin Badgers football team ended their spring practice period on Friday. After missing out on spring practice last year, having an extra 15 sessions proved to be extremely useful for Paul Chryst’s group. The Badgers didn’t have a spring game, or anything like that, but we were still able to glean a decent amount of information from the open practices and media availability.

Position coach Mickey Turner had a lot of good things to say about the guys in his tight end room when he spoke to the media. He raved about Jake Ferguson’s consistency and leadership, Jaylan Franklin’s athleticism and the progression of Hayden Rucci. It sounds like the Badgers have plenty of players that do different things which will allow that room to have a lot of flexibility. Let’s take a look at the possible depth chart as the team enters into the summer conditioning season.

Tight End Depth Chart

Position Stater Backup Backup
Position Stater Backup Backup
Receiving Jake Ferguson Jack Eschenbach Jaylan Franklin
Blocking Hayden Rucci Jack Eschenbach Clay Cundiff

*Note: it probably varies by opponent whether or not Wisconsin will “start” two tight ends, but they run enough two tight end sets that we thought it was worthwhile to note how we saw the two different positions shaking out.

Jake Kocorowski

Spring standouts

According to Turner all of the tight ends seemed to get better in this spring season. However, the bulk of the conversation revolved around Jake Ferguson and Jaylan Franklin. Ferguson was already the best offensive weapon but it sounds like he’s gotten even better since the end of last year. Turner mentioned Ferguson being much more consistent in his play and leadership. Turner added that sometimes Ferguson would get frustrated in practice in the past, but that has not been the case this spring. If Ferguson’s body is strong, it sounds like his attitude is locked in.

After Ferguson, Franklin was the main topic of conversation. Last year Franklin made the transition from outside linebacker to tight end. However, no spring practice in 2020 put Franklin a little behind in the room. Now, it’s clear he is understanding the offense and his size and athleticism are showing up. Turner mentioned that Franklin has the ability to make defenders look silly with his 6-foot-6 frame and jumping ability. That, coupled with Ferguson, could make the tight end passing game very efficient.

Kelli Steffes, UW Athletics

Remaining questions

I think the big question in the tight end room is the progression of all phases of the position within each player. Ferguson, Franklin and even Jack Eschenbach have emerged as pass-catching threats so that phase of the room appears strong. However, the Badgers rely heavily on blocking from the tight end spot as well.

Wisconsin looks like they could turn to Hayden Rucci to help in that phase of the position. He’s got the strength to do so, and we’ve seen it from him already early in his career. Rucci also mentioned he’s working on routes as well to be more dynamic in his game.

I think that aspect of the room will be important. Right now Ferguson has the ability to pass catch and block, but the others are strong in one phase or the other. If Franklin and Eschenbach can get better in the blocking game, and Rucci can develop as a pass-catcher, the room should really get an added layer of dynamics to them. With Ferguson likely in his last year, Wisconsin will need that growth from someone in the near future to give them that strong tight-end option that thrives in both phases of the position.