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Wisconsin running back Dare Ogunbowale was among six Badgers to get invited to the NFL Combine.

Six Badgers headed to the NFL combine, spring questions at tight end and Bronson Koenig misses practice again

Zach Heilprin

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Today is Friday, Feb. 16, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.


Headed to the combine

Wisconsin will be well represented at the NFL Combine when it takes place in Indianapolis from late February through early March. The league released the full list of attendees on Wednesday and six former Badgers were on it. Along with the obvious choices of OLBs T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel, OT Ryan Ramczyk, and RB Corey Clement, some minor surprises were on the list in RB Dare Ogunbowale and CB Sojourn Shelton.

It’s unclear when the last two received their invites, but it would be a great story if Ogunbowale’s came after the Super Bowl LI and in the wake of former Wisconsin RB James White’s coming out party on the biggest stage the game has to offer. While White was a much more productive runner than Ogunbowale during his college career, it’s White’s pass catching skills that led to his impact for the New England Patriots. And that’s where Ogunbowale may be able to find his niche in the league after grabbing 60 passes in his final two seasons in Madison.

As for Shelton, he’s largely been overlooked among Wisconsin’s draft hopefuls. A bit undersized and lacking truly elite speed, his future as a pro is easily the most questionable. But what he lacks in those departments, he was able to make up with his football intelligence and continually improving technique to set the school record for the most passes defended in a career.

Barring a ridiculous performance at the combine, however, it seems likely that Ogunbowale and Shelton will end up going undrafted. But that’s not a bad thing. It worked out well for several of their former teammates last year, including safety-turned-wide-receiver Tanner McEvoy, who made the Seattle Seahawks 53-man roster, and WR Alex Erickson, who did the same with the Cincinnati Bengals.

While it’s nice to say you got drafted, it can sometimes be a whole heck of lot more important to be able to pick your situation.

Fumagalli and … ?

Wisconsin will open spring practice on March 14 with seven of its offensive starters still around, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t questions to be answered. In the days and weeks leading up to the start of the 15 sessions, we’ll be examining the most crucial issues facing coach Paul Chryst as he enters Year 3 on the job.

Who other than Troy Fumagalli will give Wisconsin production out of the tight end position?

With his skills as a pass catcher and a run-blocker, Fumagalli has the potential to be an All-American in his senior season. But after he accounted for 47 of the 60 passes caught by Wisconsin tight ends last fall, the Badgers are hopeful that someone behind him on the depth chart will step up to shoulder some of the load this fall.

Redshirt sophomore Kyle Penniston was almost never used as a blocker in high school, so his transition to the college game has been a bit slower than some thought it would be for the former 4-star recruit. But as he grows stronger and becomes more reliable in the run game, everyone will see what the coaching staff liked about him so much as a receiver. In his first season of seeing action, Penniston caught 6 passes for 102 yards and showed big-play potential with a 54-yard catch and run against Iowa.

Former defensive lineman-turned-tight end Zander Neuville was essentially an extra offensive lineman after switching sides of the ball last summer. Tight ends coach Mickey Turner believes he can take a big jump this offseason.

“He’s a big strong kid,” Turner said of Neuville in early February. “He’s only getting better. He’s a quick learner. He only had so much time to learn the position, he maximized it and hopefully that continues.”

Behind those two, though, is a lack of experience and plenty of unknowns. Can redshirt freshman Jake Hescock or redshirt sophomores Mitchell Herl or Luke Benzschawel show themselves to be the future of the position? Turner is optimistic. But if they don’t, it’s possible that 2017 signee Jake Ferguson could push for time.

“He’s competitive and he’s got a demeanor about him,” Turner said of Ferguson on National Signing Day. “He’s not just happy go lucky, like, ‘cool, I’ll go play college football.’ He likes playing football. He likes hitting people. He likes catching the ball and making plays in the moment. He wants to be that guy.”

Previous installments:

Can anyone challenge Alex Hornibrook for the starting quarterback job?
Is Bradrick Shaw ready to be the man in the Wisconsin backfield?
Jazz Peavy is Wisconsin’s No. 1 wide receiver, but who’s No. 2?
Who will replace All-American Ryan Ramczyk at left tackle?

Koenig misses practice again

For a second straight day, Wisconsin guard Bronson Koenig did not take part in practice as he continues to nurse a calf injury sustained Jan. 24 against Penn State.

Koenig has hit near rock bottom since the injury, hitting on just 22.5 percent of his 3-point shots and shooting less than 30 percent overall. His backup, D’Mitrik Trice, who would get his first career start if Koenig can’t play against Michigan on Thursday, said it’s clear to him and others that the senior isn’t his normal self and is lacking the explosiveness he showed in the first 20 games of the season.

Trice is preparing as if he’ll get the start, and senior Nigel Hayes says if the Badgers don’t have Koenig, Trice and others will need to elevate their game.

“We know it’s a huge loss,” Hayes said this week. “As I’ve always answered when another team loses a key player, other players will step up. That’s just what happens.

“We know what Bronson does. Bronson takes his shots. All that means is there are more shots for someone else, another opportunity for someone to step up.

“Trice has been playing well. Brevin (Pritzl) has been doing well. Gives more opportunities for Jordan (Hill) and those guys to step up and try and make something happen.”

Wisconsin is 21-4 and 10-2 in the Big Ten, yet the Badgers are desperate for a win. They’ve fallen on hard times offensively, topping the 60-point mark in regulation just once in their last five games. Part of that is the result of Koenig’s struggles, but in a tight conference race you’d like to have all your horses, even if one of them isn’t 100-percent healthy.

Strong Twitter game

Joe Thomas comes across as a nice, quiet guy who goes about his business and doesn’t raise too much of a fuss. For 10 years, the Cleveland Browns left tackle and former Wisconsin All-American has racked up award after award while not winning many games, and therefore not garnering the attention he deserves. But Thomas is becoming less obscure by the tweet, and his Twitter feed has become among the more interesting in the sports world. Topics range from hot takes on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to his feelings on ABC’s “The Bachelor” and diagnosing the X’s and O’s of the game.

Here’s a sampling:

Catching up

  • The attention on Ethan Happ is increasing on the floor and off. The Wisconsin State Journal’s Jim Polzin looks at how the redshirt sophomore is handling it.
  • ESPN’s Mel Kiper released his second mock draft and five Big Ten players, including one Wisconsin product, made the cut.
  • The Big Ten Network’s “The Journey” will feature Happ in its episode this Sunday.