Like a lot of other people, I expected Jacob Pedersen to have a break out season in 2012. Pedersen caught 30 passes for 356 yards as a sophomore in 2011, and with Jared Abbrederis as the lone returning receiver I thought Pedersen was a natural choice for more targets, especially with a new quarterback under center.
But instead of breaking out, Pedersen nearly repeated his sophomore campaign. The 6-foot-4 tight end caught 27 passes for 355 yards in 2012. He raised his yards per reception to 13.1, but he scored just four touchdowns compared to eight the year before. He still won the Kwalick-Clark Big Ten Tight End of the Year award at the end of the season, but I think it's safe to say Pedersen and the Badgers were hoping for more.
And with one year of eligibility left, Pedersen and Wisconsin's other tight ends have a chance to make a big impact on the team this year. However, they still have a few issues to sort out when fall camp opens next month. If they can take care of business in camp, I imagine Gary Andersen might not lose as much sleep over his passing game before Wisconsin's first game of the season.
Can the tight ends step up in the passing game?
You and I both know the Badgers are pretty thin at wide receiver. Jared Abbrederis is fine as a No. 1 receiver, but the Badgers need a player or two to step up and take some of the burden off of his shoulders. But what if the Badgers can't find another receiver from their crop of returnees? We've seen what happens when Wisconsin's offense gets too one-dimensional, and the results aren't really pretty.
Tight ends are usually a security blanket for a team's passing offense, but the Badgers might have to use them more often in 2013. Wisconsin's tight ends caught 2.85 passes per game in 2012, but with Andy Ludwig running the offense I would bet that number will jump up again. Ludwig's tight ends at San Diego State averaged 4.61 receptions per game from 2011-2012, and the players confirmed that tendency during the spring when they said Ludwig loves to include the tight ends in the passing game.
That's good news for other tight ends like Brian Wozniak, Sam Arneson, and Brock DeCicco. The Badgers have a lot of experience at tight end, and Ludwig seems prepared to use it, especially if the Badgers struggle to find another wideout who can contribute on a consistent basis.
How often will we see the Badgers use a three-tight end set?
And even if the Badgers get someone like Jordan Fredrick to catch passes consistently, it seems like a lot of tight ends will see the field for the Badgers this year. The Badgers usually deployed one or two tight ends per play under Bret Bielema, but it sounds like Andersen and Ludwig want to put three tight ends on the field more often when the season starts in late August.
Using 13 personnel (one running back and three tight ends) benefits players like Arneson and DeCicco, who would normally be stuck on second string while Pedersen and Wozniak got most of the reps. But the Badgers want to use Pedersen's athleticism more often, so they're planning on splitting him out wide every now and then when they roll a 13 personnel package on to the field. That should give Arneson more reps at the traditional H-back slot, and Pedersen's experience in the passing game should give the Badgers a way to keep their offense from becoming too one-sided.