March 6, 2007

Spring outlook: Tight ends

It's hard to imagine, but next week the Wisconsin Badgers football team will hit the field again for spring practice. In preparation for spring football, intends to bring fans up to speed by breaking down each playing group leading up to the first practice. In this preview we take a look at the tight ends.

MADISON, Wis.-One of the biggest question marks at this time last year turned into one of the more productive units on the 2006 Badger football team. After losing their top three options at the tight end position, UW entered camp with a pair of converted defensive players sitting atop the depth chart and only a handful of game snaps scattered around the rest of the group.

Still, head coach Bret Bielema had the situation under control.

Almost immediately, Travis Beckum and Andy Crooks made the smooth transition to the opposite side of the ball, looking as if they played tight end their entire careers. They transformed into the ideal combination of speed and strength for the Badger offense and helped ease the loss of the top receivers (Brandon Williams and Jonathan Orr) and all-conference running back Brian Calhoun.

Beckum, who came to UW as one of the top-ranked linebackers in the country coming out of Oak Creek High emerged as one of top vertical threats on the team and quickly developed the trust of senior quarterback John Stocco, who found Beckum open over the middle throughout the season. Faster than most linebackers and taller than almost every defensive back in the country, Beckum has the rare combination of speed and agility that has many believing this will be his last year at Wisconsin before he enters the NFL draft a year early.

Crooks on the other hand was used more as an H-back, and provided the blocking that helped P.J. Hill earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. Crooks underwent surgery on his right shoulder during the offseason and will mostly likely miss all of spring workouts as the shoulder heals. He is expected to be ready for the start of the season.

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