TIGHT ENDS

TIGHT END DEPTH CHART

Projected starters | Ht. | Wt. | Yr. | Hometown

85 Zander Neuville (above); 6-5; 252; Sr.; Waupaca

49 Kyle Penniston; 6-4; 243; Jr.; Orange, Calif.

Backups 

84 Jake Ferguson; 6-5; 239; Fr.; Madison

86 Luke Benzschawel; 6-6; 247; So.; Grafton

The rest 

46 Gabe Lloyd; 6-4; 231; So.; Green Bay

96 Cormac Sampson; 6-4; 255; Fr.; Eau Claire

41 Jack Eschenbach; 6-6; 213; Fr.; Downers Grove, Ill.

THE SKINNY

Neuville, a former defensive end, became a vital piece to UW’s running game last season, and the Badgers felt his absence in the Big Ten Championship Game after he tore his ACL against Minnesota the week before. Penniston hopes for a breakout season as a receiver with Troy Fumagalli now out of the picture, while redshirt freshman Ferguson could turn into a special player at the position if he improves his blocking. Benzschawel could add some additional help in the running game.

GLASS-IS-HALF-FULL FORECAST

Neuville looks like his old self from Week 1 and becomes an extension of one of the best offensive lines in college football. Penniston develops into the receiving threat fans envisioned when he first arrived at UW and makes strides towards becoming a Fumagalli-like complete tight end. Ferguson doesn’t experience any growing pains and adds another dimension to the group.

GLASS-IS-HALF-EMPTY FORECAST

The knee injury slows Neuville down and no other tight ends step up to replace his blocking ability. Penniston fails to take the next step, Ferguson’s youth shows and Fumagalli’s absence becomes more of a problem than originally anticipated.

THE NUMBER

93 Fumagalli led the Badgers in receptions each of the past two years, totaling 93 catches over his junior and senior seasons.

Cormac Sampson's redshirt season with the University of Wisconsin football team is coming to an end. He's finally back competing for playing time, though at an entirely new position.

The former Eau Claire Memorial Old Abe has slid down from his traditional spot at tight end onto the Badgers' offensive line this spring. He's one of a handful of Wisconsin players switching roles in preparation for next fall.

"It was kind of different from tight end, but I was mainly blocking anyway. So they thought, might was well put him at tackle," Sampson said.

Sampson, who caught 10 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown while a senior at Memorial, said the change in position came from the coaches at the beginning of spring practices. He wasn't given a lengthy explanation, but knows the Badgers have a couple tight ends coming in and not many offensive linemen to use in spring ball.

So the former Old Abe embraced it, going with what's best with the team despite coming in with only one varsity game of experience on the offensive line. On the positive side, it's also given him an opportunity for some second-team reps in the spring.

"There's just not as many guys in the O-line room," the former all-state selection explained. "We have ten total, pretty much, with injuries."

With the move came a change in number - 67 from 47 - and the need to learn a whole new array of techniques and positional jargon. Luckily for him, he's at the school with some of the best offensive linemen to learn from. Wisconsin is notorious for producing professional talent at the position, including two players selected in this weekend's draft in Michael Deiter and David Edwards.

"The old guys definitely took me under their wing, which I appreciate," Sampson said. "(I'm) learning all the techniques from them. . All of them are very knowledgeable of their craft and what's best in certain situations."

Learning the technique is just one part of the transition. He also needs to bulk up in preparation for the defenders he's set to meet across the line of scrimmage. At 6-foot-4, Sampson said facing defensive linemen bigger than him is his most daunting challenge. He's already gotten a sneak peek against teammates.

"Wisconsin's defensive ends, they like them to be big," Sampson said. "I've got to learn my strengths, learn how to be physical under weight."

He's already made some progress thanks to a change in diet and a ratcheting up of his weight program. He said he's gone up about 80 pounds on his squat personal best just from being around the offensive linemen.

"I've gained about 15 pounds or so just over winter," said Sampson, who is listed at 269 pounds on the Wisconsin website. "I'm trying to get up to about 280 by summer or fall. . Being undersized, I need to be strong."

While he's fine-tuning his body, he'll have a bit more time on the field this spring to make an impression before heading into his summer workout plan.

"There's a lot of opportunity," Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said following the Badgers' fourth spring practice on April 3. "A lot of young guys getting work."

Sampson comes off his redshirt year to join a Wisconsin offense in transition. The Badgers are looking for a new starting signal caller following the transfer of Alex Hornibrook, with Jack Coan getting a majority of the 1st-team reps and freshman Graham Mertz exciting Wisconsin fans with his potential already.

He'll have a more direct relationship with the quarterback group now that he's more directly protecting them, but said the connection is already strong based on the program's principles.

"Whatever position you are, this team has a very strong core value of just getting to know everybody you can, be comfortable with everybody on the team," Sampson said. "Cause you're a family."

Bucky!

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