With spring practice set to begin next week, we are days away from the Wisconsin Badgers’ first spring practice.
With several key additions and subtractions to the roster, as well as a revamped coaching staff, this spring will provide us the first look at what next year’s football team might look like when they open up against Illinois State on September 3.
Previous spring previews:
We continue our position-by-position look at the major questions heading into the spring for the Wisconsin tight ends and fullbacks.
Who takes over for John Chenal?
The Badgers are one of the few college football teams that still utilize the fullback position. Not only does Wisconsin use their fullbacks as lead blockers, but also in short-yardage situations and the passing game.
John Chenal has held the starting role the past two seasons, but he is now off to test the NFL. Without any experienced options to turn to, the starting fullback position is wide open.
The Badgers have traditionally found success shifting scholarship linebackers or walk-on athletes into the role, and that could be the case once again in 2022.
After Quan Easterling decided to surprisingly transfer in late October, the Wisconsin Badgers had to use multiple players to back up Chenal.
Scholarship tight end Cam Large and running back Jackson Acker each saw some playing time at the position in a limited capacity, but it was walk-on Riley Nowakowski who was listed as the backup for the Las Vegas Bowl. Beyond those three candidates, walk-on Marty Strey also received practice reps at the position. However, the player that steps up and takes the opening snaps this spring is undetermined.
Large makes sense considering how heralded of a recruit he was coming out of high school. Fullback would speed up getting the redshirt sophomore on the field. Riley Nowakowski is another intriguing option because he was a running back in high school and has the size for the position too.
Fullback is such an important role in Wisconsin’s offense, and which player steps up to take over for Chenal will be called upon in multiple different ways.
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Can Bobby Engram develop a receiving threat in the tight end room?
Wisconsin has been spoiled of late. The Badgers have had NFL caliber tight ends the past handful of seasons with Troy Fumagalli and Jake Furgeson providing a safety blanket in the offense.
With Ferguson off to the NFL Draft, fans are hoping that new offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Bobby Engram can keep the streak of star tight ends going.
While the Badgers have plenty of talented options, there is not a definitive player that jumps out.
Former walk-on Jack Eschenbach is the most experienced player set to return with 19 games played and two starts over the past three seasons at tight end. Now a senior, he has recorded five receptions for 59 yards during his career, and he has steadily improved as a blocker.
Jaylan Franklin saw more playing time at tight end as the season progressed last year, but he began his career as an outside linebacker. He is the most athletic receiving threat of all the candidates, but has he improved enough as a blocker to break out as a senior?
Juniors Hayden Rucci and Clay Cundiff are also players that could be the answer. Rucci is more of an in-line blocker, while Cundiff might be the most well-rounded tight end of the bunch. Cundiff put together three great games in a row against Eastern Michigan, Notre Dame, and Michigan with 86 total yards and a touchdown before he was hurt. If healthy, he is a player to watch based on his production di lui a year ago.
Cam Large, Jack Pugh, and Cole Dakovich are younger players that could surprise with a big spring as well.
With so many different players at the position, the cupboard is far from bare for Bobby Engram. However, the Badgers desperately need a viable tight end in their offense. Engram has shown the ability to develop players such as Mark Andrews at the NFL level, can he bring about similar results for Wisconsin? Only time will tell.
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