October 29, 2008

Rudolph likes progression of young tight ends

MADISON, Wis. - If there is anything positive from losing a player like Travis Beckum it is younger players at the position have a chance to step in and gain valuable experience. Lance Kendricks, Mickey Turner and Jake Byrne will likely see more playing time the rest of the way in 2008.

Following Tuesday night's practice, BadgerBlitz.com caught up with tight end's coach Joe Rudolph. The following is a question and answer with the new coach:

The obvious question of the week is the injury to Travis Beckum. How much do you feel for a guy like that, especially with what he went through?

Rudolph: I mean, Travis, he's awesome. He's fun to watch compete, he's fun to work with everyday. He knows as well as I do that he's going to be fine. You know, obviously it's not the way you want to ride it out, but we've talked a lot since then and certain things you go through in life end up making you a stronger person down the line.

I got all the confidence in the world that he'll end up not only stronger from a mental standpoint, but he'll be stronger physically. He's a workhorse and I know he'll take care of himself and be ready to go. God puts us through some things at times, but he'll come out of it just fine.

When you talked to him, how was his mindset? Is he just going to accept it and move forward or was there a certain level of disappointment there, too?

Rudolph: Yeah, you know he's disappointed but he kind of gets it in that respect. He's got a great mindset about him and everyday will bring its own challenge, a new feeling about, 'oh I'm not involved.' We play on keeping him very much involved, giving him some duties, watching the guys and coaching them up and I know he'll jump at that as soon as he starts feeling better with that leg.

As that position coach, does this put more pressure on you to develop the younger guys, or do they make it pretty easy on you?

Rudolph: What it does is, you know, those guys have watched him. I brought something up the other day about Travis and I go, 'You know what, the one thing about him was I never once had to look to see is Travis here, is he where he's supposed to be?' Just little things like that.

He's led by his example and at this point these guys should be following that. They should be doing it and they see it, they understand it. You expect them to follow in line according to that. Now how they perform and what opportunities they have, they know they have to jump at whatever they get. I think they're excited about it.

Was it kind of a blessing in disguise early in the season when Travis and Garrett Graham were kind of battling injuries so these younger guys already have a little experience?

Rudolph: That's the one thing is both Travis and Garrett have had been out for periods. Within that, those guys get a lot of reps during practice, they get a lot of reps that add up. It was always a little different feeling when you know you're going, but they've always been on the cusp since the first game of the year. I think they felt that pressure throughout the year. I think in a lot of respects, they feel confident about what they have to do.

How about Jake Byrne? How has he progressed and will he be in the mix for some consistent time?

Rudolph: Yeah, I mean, it moves everyone up. It's kind of funny because we haven't had a full group that have been healthy the full year. That's kind of where Jake has been, he said, 'Ok, ok, ok,' and he is. He's getting better everyday. He had a great day out there today, but I'm feeling confident with where he's coming to. It makes his awareness that much more, he's realizing it, 'Hey, I'm right.' I think it's been invaluable all the reps that he's gotten to this point.

I don't know exactly how much input you have with Paul Chryst with what you do with the tight ends, but how does it change what you say to him going into a game without Travis?

Rudolph: Well, I mean, what you do is you go through a practice like this and you get a feel for what guys are good at, what they feel confident in doing and from there the game plan evolves. Those guys are out there competing. Mickey's competing for opportunities and Lance is competing for opportunities and Jake is competing for opportunities. It kind of will fall out of that, but everyday is important.

A lot of people have compared Lance to Travis, do you see that at all?

Rudolph: Well, they're different guys, they're different personalities. They have some physical attributes that are similar, but I told Lance from the beginning, his biggest battle is going to be the best Lance Kendricks he can be. You know what I mean? The minute you try to be something other than that, you're stepping in the wrong direction.

Do you sense that was going on with him at all?

Rudolph: No, I think at one point maybe yeah and it probably held him back. I think as he's gotten some experience this year he realizes, 'Hey, it's okay to be me.' He's gaining some confidence in that and I like seeing that.

Is it exciting for you to know that you're going to build depth the remainder of the year?

Rudolph: I would rather have Travis. (Laughing)

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