Lucas at Large: Arneson follows path quietly paved by Byrne

FB_120421_Arneson_Sam.jpegJake Byrne was among the more unsung components of the Wisconsin offense; a blocking tight end who rarely if ever drew attention to himself unless he missed a block that blew up a running play. Outside of the team meeting room, who would know? Such was his anonymity.

Byrne had one reception last season and six overall during his 51-game UW career. Yet he was a key contributor to the success that the Badgers have had moving the chains. Nobody realizes that more than Sam Arneson, who's competing for Byrne's job on the line of scrimmage.

"I learned a lot from watching him (Byrne),'' said Arneson, a freshman from Merrill, Wis. "I think people underestimated how good of a blocker he was. He got the job done; time-in and time out.

"That's who we're trying to replace -- being that consistent blocker on the edge. That's what you need to get the offense to go and the tight end is such a pivotal blocker.

"You don't realize that until you have a guy who can't make that block.''

Arneson has gotten a chance to prove himself with the No. 1 offense during spring drills due in part to an injury to tight end Brian Wozniak. The Badgers are looking for a complement to H-back Jacob Pedersen who's coming off an injury and began practicing for the first time this week.

While there's little experience behind Pedersen and Wozniak, both of whom are juniors, there's plenty of promise in the mix that includes Arneson and Brock DeCicco, a junior transfer from Pitt, and Austin Maly and Austin Traylor, redshirt freshmen from Waunakee, Wis., and Columbus, Ohio, respectively.

Even though Arneson is completing only his second semester on campus, he conceded shyly, "You feel a little older. You feel like the guys around you don't view you as that real young guy anymore. You feel like you can say something to a teammate and he'll take it with some respect.''

Arneson has begun to mature physically. Last fall, he reported to training camp at about 245 pounds. He got up to 260 this winter. "I focused on eating a little healthier to maybe shed a little fat and build some muscle,'' he said, crediting UW assistant strength coach Brian Bott for adding "good weight.''

Good how? Well, good from the respect where he said, "I think I'm faster than I was.''

Good also from another very important respect to his position.

"We have to be able to move people,'' said Arneson, speaking for the tight ends who are considered an extension of the offensive line. "It's definitely helping my blocking. I'm moving people better than I was in the fall, not only with my strength but with my (additional) weight.''

In high school, he acknowledged, "Run blocking was easy; it's something you could do.''

But he learned, "You get here as a freshman and they're all pretty much stronger than you.''

Arneson understood what had to happen next.

"You get in the weight room,'' he said, "and you put in the work over the winter.''

Arneson has been auditioning this spring under the watchful eye of a new tight ends coach, Eddie Faulkner, who has replaced Joe Rudolph. Comparing one to the other, he said, "Great coaches, but different coaches with different personalities.''

Asked specifically about Faulkner -- a former Badger running back -- Arneson, whose dad is a former UW tight end, said, "He (Faulkner) is someone you respect right away. He knows his stuff.''

The offense has been tweaked to a degree by coordinator Matt Canada. Along with the coaching turnover, Arneson pointed out, the personnel has also turned over. "We have some different play calls,'' he said, "and different players executing them. It's a lot of the same stuff with different terminology.''

There was the sense that some steps have been taken "and we'll continue to progress as we get more comfortable'' with the offense, he said; particularly given his own youth and inexperience. Arneson is striving "for consistency on every play and being the guy they can really count on.''

If he can get to that point, he would like to consider "maybe taking another step as a leader.''

Byrne took that route in his own quiet way and proved it's not a bad path to follow.
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