Whenever a roll call is taken to assess the missing parts from last year's version of the University of Wisconsin football team's offense, it usually takes some time before getting to the name of Jake Byrne.
Some don't even regard Byrne as a departed starter, given he was the second tight end, though he started 13 of the 14 games last season.
But one has to do is put on the film from last season and watch Byrne's blocking to see his importance. Whether he was setting the edge to help a running back get outside or muscling a 300-pound defensive end at the point of attack, he played like a third tackle.
"There were times he would step on the scale and be 270 and nobody knew where that came from," said junior Brian Wozniak, who has taken over Byrne's spot. "He and I are similar on a lot of blocks, but he was real good on the edge. That's what I need to pick up."
Byrne isn't the only unsung part of last year's running game who has departed. Most UW fans know the team had to replace three starters in the offensive line, which has been the focus for the shortcomings on the ground in the first three games.
The Badgers rank an uncharacteristic No. 94 nationally in rushing offense, averaging 119.7 yards per game. Perhaps even more alarming is an average per carry of just 3.1. Last year's offense ranked No. 11, averaging 235.6 yards per game and 5.4 per carry.
Fullback Bradie Ewing, a fifth-round draft pick by the Atlanta Falcons, also is gone and has been replaced by redshirt freshman Derek Watt, who moved from linebacker midway through preseason camp.
"I think it's fair to say that at all positions — offensive line, tight end, fullback — we haven't been as effective (as last season) in some of the same type of blocking," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "Jake Byrne was great at the point of attack, big body. (Jacob Pedersen) and (Wozniak) are trying to do the same things. But to say that they've been as consistent in execution, obviously not.
"Derek Watt ... he's just not as powerful as Bradie right now, but he's a freshman."
Wozniak, who weighs about 255 pounds, is a different kind of player than Byrne, who caught only one pass last season. With four catches for 33 yards, Wozniak is a bigger factor in the passing game. But he knows his job description starts with blocking.
"Coming in here, you're block first, catch second," he said. "Especially having my on-line position and having Ped in the same room with me (as the motion tight end) because he's a great receiver."
Wozniak is a capable blocker, but he's still striving to reach Byrne's level.
"He wants to be physical, wants to be good," tight ends coach Eddie Faulkner said. "He's going to put in all the work to be where he needs to be."
Last week's 16-14 victory over Utah State was an example of the issues that have plagued the running game. The offense had six penalties — four false starts and two holds. Wozniak was guilty of one of the false starts, plus a holding call that was declined.
Faulkner addressed the holding issue this week, which he said had to do with hand placement outside of the framework of the body.
On one of four failed third-and-short plays in the first half, 284-pound defensive end Al Lapuaho knocked sophomore tight end Sam Arneson into the backfield and tripped up tailback Montee Ball for no gain.
"(Arneson) was high, a guy got under his pads and took him back," Faulkner said. "There's another young guy, those kind of things happening to him should be building blocks to get better."
Wozniak said keeping his pads too high was an issue on some of his blocks, too.
"It has to do with me staying lower and being able to drive with a wide base instead of trying to run them off with a narrow base," he said. "I definitely need to step my blocking up. I had a few good blocks, I just need to be more consistent with that."
The tight ends take as much ownership of the running game problems as the linemen. And the tight ends are just as dedicated to getting it right. Wozniak has stayed after practice to work on his blocking and spent time on Sunday and Monday talking to recently promoted line coach Bart Miller to make sure they communicate.
"We take plenty of ownership, we're just as involved as the linemen are," Faulkner said. "Anybody will tell you as a football coach, if you can't handle the point of attack, if you can't handle your edges blocking, you're going to struggle. We've got to be better with it. We will be."