For the University of Wisconsin football team, the top of the depth at tight end is set with established seniors Owen Daniels and Jason Pociask sharing first-team duties.
The top reserve reps, meanwhile, have been split up during the Badgers’ fall camp between redshirt freshman Sean Lewis, a converted quarterback, and fifth-year senior walk-on Joel Nellis.
“Sean is learning the position,” UW head coach Barry Alvarez said. “He’s worked hard to get stronger. He’s put on some weight. I think someday he’ll be a good tight end… and he will get bigger. He can run. He makes some plays.
Lewis is listed at 6-foot-7, 235 pounds, while Nellis is 6-4, 240.
“Joel Nellis is… a program guy,” Alvarez said. “He’s a guy that (is) very intelligent, loves to play, is one of our typical walk-ons who has just stuck to the program and followed everything we’ve done. He re-defined his body and I have no reservations putting Joel on the field. He’ll help us in special teams.”
Daniels a capable blocker
Daniels has always been a willing blocker. But last season he did not do a good enough job blocking to keep opponents from expecting to see a pass play when he entered the game. So this offseason, Daniels focused on improving his blocking. Daniels still is not as good of a blocker as Pociask, but he has done a respectable to good job in this regard as camp has progressed.
“We’ve emphasized that,” Alvarez said. “I have no reservations with him at point of attack. Last year we did it occasionally just to keep people honest. But he’s 250-plus pounds right now. He can block. If they overplay him not as a blocker, then that’s good. I think he’s greatly improved and he knew that was something he had to work on.”
Red zone rehearsal
Another point of concern in the offseason was UW’s struggles in the red zone last season. During their practice Wednesday morning at Camp Randall, however, the Badgers’ offense scored seven touchdowns on seven consecutive possessions during a red zone drill.
“You’d like for your offense to score when you get in the red zone,” Alvarez said. “Probably for the first time in a long time we weren’t good in short yardage or red zone (last season)… So that’s a point of emphasis.
“We experiment. That’s the thing you have to understand sitting up in the stands. You don’t really know what we’re trying to do. We’re giving different looks, we’re trying to put the toughest situation for the offense. Give them a hard situation to handle and we want to experiment. So it’s not always… you got five out of six or four out of five. It’s how did we execute those things? And was this something we want to continue looking at, whether our guys can handle it? That’s part of practice, that’s why you have these things. It’s just putting them in that situation. Both sides of the ball it’s very important, it’s something that we have to improve on and that’s why we gave it extra work.”
White showing improvement
One player who has stood out this camp is strong safety Johnny White.
“Johnny, before anytime you flash faked the fullback, Johnny’s two yards in the backfield. Unfortunately, he’s responsible for the tight end a lot of times,” Alvarez said with a grin. “But I think he’s been disciplined in this camp. I think he’s grown up. I think he’s learned to be patient. Yet, he’s a guy that will fill the run pretty quick now. He’ll blow you up. I’ve been pleased with Johnny.”
Kicking confidence, part two
Alvarez again expressed renewed confidence in the kicking game, particularly sophomore place kicker Taylor Mehlhaff, who has command of the Badgers’ field goal kicking job.
“I think Taylor’s missed one kick the entire camp,” Alvarez said. “It was a little windy the other day and he didn’t play the wind. I couldn’t be more pleased with him. And our punters have been outstanding and our long snapper. Those guys worked hard all summer and it’s paid off in camp. I feel 100 percent better right now than I did going into camp.”