MADISON - Owen Daniels paved the way for Travis Beckum. Travis Beckum opened the door for Garrett Graham. And Garrett Graham led into Lance Kendricks.
Now, as we prepare to begin the 2011 season with the advent of fall camp set to begin Friday afternoon, it seems as though Lance Kendricks' departure has set the stage for Jacob Pedersen.
It's his time at the tight end position.
"Pedersen is a great player," UW senior wide receiver Nick Toon said during last week's annual Big Ten Meetings in Chicago. "You saw some of the things he could do when Lance got tired last year. I'm looking forward to seeing what some of these young guys can do."
Pedersen won't come across as flashy, he won't get many preseason accolades and he won't be the focal point of many defenses. He will, as evidenced by the amount of production at the position in the past, be productive.
That's just the way Paul Chryst's offensive schemes are set up.
The tight end position, particularly the H-back spot, is always going to be a fixture in the offense. Pedersen, like his predecessors, is athletic, motivated and sure handed. If his sophomore season was an appetizer, his junior season, assuming he stays healthy, will have the potential to be a hearty sirloin steak.
At 6-foot-4, 244 pounds, Pedersen has all the size necessary to fulfill an entire season of Big Ten play. With the chance to work with Russell Wilson, a quarterback that threw for better than 8,500 yards during his three seasons at NC State, Pedersen should really flourish.
Jake Byrne returns for his senior season. The big 6-foot-4, 253-pound block-first tight end is fresh off an impressive spring camp where he proved to be more versatile than many previously anticipated. He does have pretty solid hands for a big man and his blocking remained top notch.
Considering how many weapons the UW offense has, a guy like Byrne could slip through the cracks. If that happens, there will be plenty of opportunities for him to complete a big play, one that at the very least moves the chains.
He'll also be very instrumental in UW's running game. He's the biggest tight end on the roster and the most veteran. That should translate to a successful senior season.
The burning question
Can one of these guys be elite?
Lance Kendricks, as supported when he was taken in the second round of April's NFL Draft, was elite. Travis Beckum, Garrett Graham and Owen Daniels were also elite before him. There has been a tradition of elite tight ends over the past number of years so based on the historical evidence at the position, one would assume it would continue in 2011.
But will it?
Is Pedersen enough of a playmaker to be considered elite? Will he have the knack for making the big play when it's needed most. Will he have entire schemes drawn up to get him involved like most of the others enjoyed?
It all remains to be seen.
The truth of the matter is that Pedersen has what it takes to be elite. He may not be as fast as some of his predecessor, but he makes up for it with his all around versatility and work ethic. If he truly wants to be great he'll be given every single opportunity to reach that level.
Though he spent a good amount of time lining up at the fullback position last spring, it seemed as though Cadogan really benefited from his redshirt season. He looked more powerful, more confident in his reads and more capable of standing out during a given play. Assuming he continued to progress throughout the summer, Cadogan could surprise some people as a redshirt freshman. He's one to keep an eye on.
When healthy, Wozniak has proven to be a valuable asset to the Badgers tight end contingent. In fact, before he suffered a shoulder injury last fall, it seemed as though he had surpassed Pedersen as Kendricks' backup. If he's able to stay healthy throughout August, he will likely make a push for playing time in 2011.
The Badgers signed three tight end prospects as part of their 2011 recruiting class. Sam Arneson, Austin Maly and Austin Traylor will all compete in fall camp. It will be interesting to see if any of them perform well enough to break into the rotation.
Sherard Cadogan on his physical style of play:
"I've always been physical. I feel that this game is physical and you've got to be physical. That's the reason that we're here. We're a physical team. That's Wisconsin football. We're going to be physical.