Wisconsin has always been associated with power football, and an integral part of that had been the thankless yet important job of fullback. From recent stalwarts like Bill Rentmeester, Chris Pressley and Matt ""the Hebrew Hammer"" Bernstein to former NFL standout Cecil Martin who blocked for Ron Dayne (recruited mostly as a fullback), all the way back to Heisman winner Alan Ameche, the position has been essential to Badger offenses.
This season... not so much.
Although there has not been a change in offensive philosophy, the Wisconsin offense has not featured that big, bruising fullback. Instead, it has opted to put tight ends in the backfield to lead the way for running backs. In two of the last three weeks, the team has not even listed a fullback on the depth chart.
""We run a 13-personnel is what we call it. One back, three tight ends,"" senior tight end Garrett Graham said. ""So you know, we're able to do a lot more things. Mickey [Turner] especially has been in the backfield a little more and you'll see Lance [Kendricks] floating around there too in motions and stuff like that.""
Kendricks and team captains Graham and Turner all share starting tight end spots and have thus far been important in both the running and passing game. The trio has combined for 21 receptions for 234 yards.
Each of the three brings a slightly different skill set to the offense, which almost always has two of them on the field.
""I'd say none of us are the same,"" Graham said. ""Lance [can] really stretch the field, is a fast guy, really strong, a freak in the weight room. He's real physical when it comes to blocking. Mickey, he's going to get things done. He works really hard, unselfish. I'm probably a mix between both of them.""
The comments about Kendricks are especially notable, since when he arrived at Wisconsin, he played wide receiver. Out of Rufus King High School in Milwaukee, he was considered one of the top 15 receivers in the 2006 class by scout.com.
The staff moved him over to tight end, but even after coming back from a broken leg suffered against Michigan State, his pass-catching skills were still far ahead of his blocking.
Then Kendricks started the 2009 season with two catchless games, but still drew praise from coaches for his work in the run game. The receiving ability showed up last Saturday, as Kendricks had team highs in catches and receiving yards against Wofford.
""I appreciate what Lance has done as far as getting himself prepared so that he can do what he's doing,"" Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst said, noting how well he transitioned to the new position. ""You know, guys come in and you don't know which direction they go and to his credit, he's found a way on the field and a major contributor to this offense.""
Kendricks, was at a loss when asked to consider how he would have responded in high school to the prospect of lead blocking for a big back like sophomore John Clay.
""I don't know what I would have said [as a senior],"" Kendricks said. ""I probably would have freaked out then, but now it's fine. I'm so used to it now, it doesn't bother me.""
Both Graham and Kendricks said that being a lead blocker in the running game was a change from blocking from the normal tight end position but not an exceptionally challenging one.
""There's a lot of carry-over,"" tight ends coach Joe Rudolph said. ""Now this is a little bit different. I would say the level of difficulty enhances a little bit and but they've adapted well to it and they're doing a good job.""
The change itself was not a matter of shifting the game plan more toward tight ends and away from fullbacks, but simply responding to a roster without many players in the classic fullback mold.
""I think a good offense takes advantage of the people,"" Chryst said ""[The tight ends] were all good players, worthy of being on the field and so I think you adjust to players as opposed to trying to say scheme for something or another.""