Michigan Football Preview 2017

2017 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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78 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2017 FOOTBALL PREVIEW TIGHT ENDS BY JOHN BORTON J ake Butt heads for the NFL with the Mackey Award as the nation's best tight end in 2016, along with Michigan re- cords for catches and yards at the position. He also carries the admiration of U-M fans for insisting he'd never have missed his final game in a winged helmet, despite the knee injury that kept him from performing at the NFL Combine and dropped his draft stock. Butt departs Ann Arbor with something else as well, according to new tight ends coach Greg Frey. He's what every aspiring U-M tight end needs to try and become. "Jake Butt set the standard for us in recent times and through the course of Michigan history," Frey said. "What's our take, what's our goal, what's our standard, and how hard are we willing to work to get there? How much are we going to push each other, and how accountable are we going to hold each other?" If they're like Butt, they'll be just fine. There's a ways to go to get there, but Michi- gan's tight ends are working on it, and Frey likes a lot of what he saw in his first spring back with the Wolverines. "Outstanding people," Frey said of his group. "They're working hard, and we're doing some really, really good things. We're also doing some things where you think, huh? But we had some great practices." He's seeking a crew of tight ends who embrace every part of the job. There's far more to it than catching passes, and his play- ers are getting that message emphasized over and over. "It's consistency and doing our job, the ability to attack weaknesses, the desire to be great, the desire to be a great teammate," Frey said. "You've got to play without the ball in your hands. "Anybody can play when it's 70 degrees and sunny. You want that guy who is going to fight through adversity. 'If my job is to block 50 times, I'll block 50 times. If it's catch 10 touchdowns, I'll catch 10 touchdowns.' "They've got to be great with the ball in their hands, but they also have to be selfless and very unselfish players. We are looking for the guy that, when he's in there, is fo- cused on doing his job as well as possible." Butt's departure definitely left a dent in the roster, but so did that of true freshman Devin Asiasi, who played as a rookie but opted to head back closer to his West Coast home af- ter the season. That doesn't mean Frey finds himself empty handed. The Wolverines feature a number of play- ers who saw the field a year ago and see a wide-open opportunity in front of them this fall. Chief among them might be redshirt junior Ian Bunting, who stepped into the breach when Butt went down. Bunting snagged a ca- reer-best three catches against Florida State, covering 40 yards. On the season, the fourth-year U-M tight end made five receptions for 46 yards. He's yet to make a touchdown catch in a career that has seen him secure 10 throws for 118 yards, but that could soon change. One pass-catching option as a tight end certainly turned heads in the spring game, in part because Michigan's usually sticky de- fense didn't stick with him. Redshirt sopho- more tight end Zach Gentry managed to float out into open space alone, redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters finding him for a 55-yard touchdown pass. Gentry possesses excellent hands and speed for someone his size (6-7, 244). He's working to become a better blocker and thus enjoy more of an all-around opportunity at tight end, but in the meantime he could cer- tainly be targeted in some situations. Gentry played in seven games last year and did not make a catch. Tyrone Wheatley Jr., is certainly one of Michigan's bigger blockers, at 6-6, 276. The redshirt sophomore is seeking a breakout year, after making three grabs for 35 yards, including a touchdown, in 12 games of 2016 action. Wheatley's first career catch involved a 21-yard touchdown reception against Illinois last season. He'll be looking to replicate that end zone celebration a few times in the com- ing year. Redshirt freshman Nick Eubanks got into one game in 2016, making his career de- but against Central Florida. He's another of Michigan's lanky tight ends, checking in at 6-5, 236, and is getting groomed for action in the fall. He did come on in the latter portion of spring practice, turning some heads. PRESEASON ANALYSIS: TIGHT ENDS STARTER ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Redshirt junior Ian Bunting appears to be in position here, having led the way after Butt succumbed to injury in the Orange Bowl and starting seven times before that. Bunting hasn't produced big numbers over the course of his career, but he could get the chance to do so now. When the Wolverines start two tight ends, there's a good chance redshirt sophomore Tyrone Wheatley Jr. gets the call. DEPTH ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ The Wolverines feature five tight ends who have been on the field. The quality of the depth is yet to be proven, since none of the players at that position has been a regular starter over the course of a season, or a tar- geted performer. X-FACTOR Redshirt sophomore Zach Gentry showed his speed in catching a pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters and running away from everyone in Michigan's spring game. The question is, can he block well enough to see the field consistently, and if not how might he be worked into a receiv- ing package? OVERALL ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ This group lost a lot when Jake Butt and Devin Asiasi moved out of Ann Arbor. Given Jim Harbaugh's emphasis on tight ends, oth- ers could certainly step forward and produce. Whether they will or not under new tight ends coach Greg Frey remains to be seen. Note: Star rankings are made on a scale of 1-5 stars. QUICK FACTS Position Coach: Greg Frey (first season). Returning Starter: Ian Bunting (7 starts). Departing Starter: Jake Butt (37) Projected New Starter: Tyrone Wheatley Jr. Top Reserves: Zach Gentry, Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks. Wait Until 2018: TBD. Newcomers: None. Moved In: None. Moved Out: None. Rookie Impact: None. Most Improved Player: Bunting. Best Pro Prospect: Wheatley. A New StANdArd to Meet U-M Tight Ends Look To Step It Up With Jake Butt Gone

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