UW football tight ends preview: Same plan under new coordinator

2012-08-01T06:00:00Z UW football tight ends preview: Same plan under new coordinatorBy TOM MULHERN | Wisconsin State Journal Chippewa Herald

Sophomore tight end Sam Arneson was no different than many fans after the departure of University of Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst following the 2011 season.

Arneson wondered if the tight ends would play as prominent a role under new offensive coordinator Matt Canada as they did the previous seven years with Chryst.

"We'd have three in the game sometimes last year," Arneson said of his initial concerns. "What if (Canada) only wants to play one? We have so much depth, it's tough to compete (for one spot)."

It's difficult to imagine another coach who appreciates tight ends as much as Chryst, who played the position for the Badgers and also coached it earlier in his career.

"But I think coach Canada is doing a great job of using us," Arneson said. "He's a smart offensive guy. He'll take what we have and he'll use it to the best of our ability."

Canada put Arneson's fears to rest in the spring, making it clear tight ends will remain a focal point. With questions at wide receiver and little depth at fullback, double tight ends will again figure prominently among the offensive formations.

"He has given us a good role so far," Arneson said. "Hopefully, it will continue to progress."

Actually, the tight ends slipped in one area a year ago, accounting for only 13.3 percent of the team's receptions and 11.3 percent of the receiving yards. Almost all of it came from Jacob Pedersen, who was third on the team in receptions (30) and receiving yards (356) and second in touchdown catches (eight).

The tight end totals were the lowest under Chryst since his first year as UW's offensive coordinator in 2005, when they accounted for 14.5 percent of the receptions and 11.7 percent of the receiving yards.

The passing game was especially reliant on tight ends from 2006-2010, when they accounted for 40.4 percent of the receptions, 39.3 percent of the passing yards and 53.7 percent of the touchdown catches.

The Badgers still used two tight ends in 2011, but senior Jake Byrne caught only one pass and was primarily a blocker. Also, running backs emerged as bigger receiving threats.

When the position has been at its best, the Badgers have had dual receiving threats, including Travis Beckum and Garrett Graham in 2007 or Graham and Lance Kendricks in 2009.

That's where Arneson comes in. After a strong spring, he will compete with injury-plagued junior Brian Wozniak to replace Byrne as the tight end on the line of scrimmage. Pedersen a junior, returns as the motion tight end.

"Byrne could catch, but it wasn't his strength," Arneson said. "I think I've always had pretty solid hands, but they can never be good enough. You've got to continue to get better so you can make every catch for the quarterback."

Canada displayed a variety of formations in the spring, like Chryst before him, using tight ends in different spots.

"Tight ends are such a unique position because they can do so much," Canada said. "It gives you a matchup problem for the defense. Everything in our business is trying to find matchups and trying to find, where's Waldo? Where's the guy you're going to go after?"

The tight ends have a new coach in former UW running back Eddie Faulkner, who showed plenty of enthusiasm in the spring, often running down the field to congratulate his guys after making plays.

"He's got a great personality," Arneson said. "I think our tight end group has taken to him well. We immediately respected him for what he did as a player and what he's been as a coach."

It's one of the deepest positions on the team, with promising young players such as redshirt freshmen Austin Traylor and Austin Maly, as well as junior Brock DeCicco, who is eligible after sitting out last season as a transfer from Pittsburgh.

"We've had different numbers of tight ends on the field and backs, just trying to find our best football players and who will give us those matchups certain weeks," Canada said.

"Spring and fall camp are when you do that, you get all of that right, so then in Week 7, 8 and 9, we have that in the bank."

Key losses

Jake Byrne started 13 games and caught just one pass, but was integral to the offense’s success as a blocker.

Burning question: Will Pedersen continue to be a top red-zone threat?

Running back Montee Ball isn’t the only touchdown machine in UW’s offense. Pedersen has caught 38 career passes and has 10 touchdowns, an average of a touchdown every 3.8 catches. Departed offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was widely viewed as a red-zone wizard, so it will be interesting to see if Pedersen can keep up those numbers under new offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

Player to watch: Sam Arneson

With Wozniak slowed by injuries, Arneson spent most of the spring as the replacement for Byrne. Unlike Byrne, however, Arneson runs well and appeared to be especially effective working the deep middle of the field. Arneson will have to prove he’s a capable blocker, which didn’t seem to be a problem. He could be a nice complement to Pedersen and also take some of the pressure off finding depth among the young receivers.

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