Visit to McCarthy's Hometown...........Kenny Mayne

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

UW football: Beckum back for more

Take a moment to digest the numbers.Travis Beckum set University of Wisconsin records last season for a tight end, with 61 receptions for 903 yards and five touchdowns.

Now, consider the consequences.Beckum is a former defensive player who just moved to the position in the previous spring and admittedly didn't start to feel comfortable until the Big Ten Conference opener against Michigan.

Finally, contemplate the future. Just how good can Beckum, a junior, become with a full year at the position under his belt?"Travis improved so much as the season went along as a football player, but also as a person, as a student, as someone who can maybe help us lead a little bit on the field," UW coach Bret Bielema said after the spring game."

And the competitive nature he has — I always kid him about being pretty and being fast and all this. I said, 'I want you to become a football player.

I want you to use your hands when you block, I want you to stay in good football position.' It's been steady (progress) over time, little doses here and there, and he's continued to develop."Given everything Beckum accomplished last season, it's easy to overlook senior Andy Crooks, another former linebacker who also made the move to tight end in the spring of 2006.

Yet, when offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was asked this spring to evaluate some of the potential leaders on his side of the ball, Crooks was the first player mentioned."He was a lot of our (offensive) personality, I felt like, last year," Chryst said.

With both Beckum and Crooks back this year, tight end is one of the strongest areas on a deep and experienced team.Beckum and Crooks proved to be such an effective combination, the double tight end formation became a staple in UW's offense.

The versatility of Crooks, who can also line up in the backfield, allowed the offense to overcome injuries to fullbacks Chris Pressley, who missed the entire season with a broken ankle suffered in fall camp, and Bill Rentmeester, who was in and out of the lineup all season with a shoulder injury. Crooks had 19 catches for 206 yards and four TDs and was also the team's best blocking tight end.

Even in passing situations, Chryst often preferred to use two receivers and two tight ends, rather than three receivers and a tight end, or four receivers."I want the offensive coordinator to call plays to our guys, but they have to merit that," receivers coach Henry Mason said in the spring. "It doesn't make any sense to take Travis Beckum off the field in passing situations."Crooks missed spring practices, following post-season shoulder surgery and third tight end Sean Lewis was also out with an injury.

That allowed Beckum extra reps to concentrate on his blocking, the weakest part of his game."With Crooks and Sean being gone, (I'm) kind of getting all the blocks down — down blocks, zone blocks," Beckum said in the spring. "Last year I was kind of limited in what blocks I did. I think that's good experience for me to be able to do all the blocks."

Former quarterback John Stocco used to joke that Beckum didn't always know where he was going, either. So, Beckum was working on polishing his route-running skills, too.

But it's hard to find another tight end nationally who impacted games — and defenses — as much as Beckum. In Big Ten games only, Beckum ranked second in the conference in receiving yards, averaging 75.1 per game.

Even with defenses increasingly focusing their coverages on him later in the season, he still caught five or more passes in each of the final five games, counting the bowl victory over Arkansas."I expected it," Beckum said of the different coverages he faced, including bracket coverage, with a linebacker underneath and a safety over the top. "It's just something I kind of look forward to."

If defenders are going to bracket me and put more defenders on me, it's going to leave other players open. Once that happens, we can have a complete offense."The popular perception, going into the season, is Beckum will be a better all-around player, but might not put up the numbers he had last season.

But given his extraordinary talent and competitiveness, don't rule out an even bigger season."That was kind of a point for me, to have an even better season this year," Beckum said. "The numbers I put up were kind of large last year. I definitely think I'm capable of doing it."

Courtesy of Tom Mulhern from today's Wisconsin State Journal:

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