The Wolverine

2018 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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72 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2018 FOOTBALL PREVIEW WIDE RECEIVERS BY CHRIS BALAS M ichigan got a break it didn't need — literally — when freshman wide receiver Tarik Black went down in the third game of the season last year, suffering a broken foot against Air Force. The 6-3, 206-pounder was well on his way to becoming the Wolverines' leading receiver, having notched 11 catches for 149 yards and a score. In his first ever game, a 33-17 win over Florida, he scored a 46-yard touchdown and finished with 83 yards. It got worse when reliable junior Grant Perry suffered a lower body injury in an Oct. 28 win over Rutgers. Perry led the team in receiving yards (285) at that point, so the Wolverines needed others to step up — but it didn't happen. Perry would finish the sea- son with a team-high 307 yards in only 11 games, and U-M's entire group of wide re- ceivers managed only 1,142 as a group (just four more than Braylon Edwards put up by himself in 2003). With all due respect to assistant Joe Hast- ings, now at Indiana State and one of Michi- gan's primary receivers coaches last year, the Wolverines needed a boost there, too. Head coach Jim Harbaugh went out and landed former Florida head coach Jim McEl- wain and brought in a familiar face, former Michigan star Roy Roundtree (2008-12), as a graduate assistant to help him. Harbaugh raved about his hires during the spring, noting McElwain would have a voice in play calling and game planning, too, while McElwain expressed optimism that his inherited group had made big strides. "Well, you're not going to catch it if you're not open," McElwain said when asked about his focus near the end of spring ball. "The No. 1 thing we do, that we start our prac- tice with … we've had great work with our secondary in some individual release drills, just trying to help our guys put some things in their toolbox to help them be successful. "So far, I've seen a lot of progress." McElwain, the new guy on the block, wasn't ready to go into great detail about his players' strengths and weaknesses, but others around the program saw enough to be impressed and optimistic. Former Michigan wide receiver Ronald Bellamy (1999-2002), now head coach for a thriving West Bloomfield High program in southeast Michigan, compared this crop of receivers to one U-M fans had seen before, and one they loved. "These guys are like the guys I played with, David Terrell and Marquise Walker," Bellamy said of the 2018 receiver group. "One thing I took away from spring ball was watching how big they are, how huge they are … massive. "I got a chance to see them in the weight room and you see 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. The smallest guy was Grant Perry [at 6-0, 191], and he's not a small guy. I think the size is definitely going to pose problems for opposing de- fenses." The highly touted second-year group in particular — all of which besides Oliver Martin played last season — has really caught Bellamy's eye. "This is a very talented group," he noted. "Tarik Black is healthy, Donovan Peoples- Jones is a year older and Nico Collins is a year older, and I think he'll be ready to roll. Oliver Martin is coming off a redshirt year, was a hot prospect coming out of high school, and [senior] Grant Perry, he's the old man of the group. "I love the fact that these guys, they're young but they're old, so to speak. They've played a lot of football for true freshmen last year, the majority of the group. I think this group is ready to take a huge leap." Black and Peoples-Jones are the headlin- ers, and Harbaugh confirmed in early June at QUICK FACTS Position Coach: Jim McElwain (first season). Returning Starters: Donovan Peoples-Jones (6 career starts), Tarik Black (3), Grant Perry (1). Departing Starters: None. Projected New Starters: None. Top Reserves: Eddie McDoom (2), Nate Schoenle (1), Nico Collins (1), Oliver Martin. Wait Until 2019: Michael Barrett, Ronnie Bell. Newcomers: Barrett, Bell. Moved In: None. Moved Out: Nate Johnson (off the team), Maurice Ways (transferred to Cal), Drake Harris (transferred to WMU), Kekoa Crawford (off the team). Rookie Impact: None. Most Improved Player: Collins. Best Pro Prospects: Black, Peoples-Jones. On The Rise Michigan's Mix Of Pass Catchers Has Great Potential PRESEASON ANALYSIS: WIDE RECEIVERS STARTERS ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ There's a lot of talent here, especially in the sophomore class, but there's not a lot of pro- duction coming back. No returning receiver outside of senior Grant Perry has reached the 300-yard plateau, though redshirt freshman Tarik Black was nearly halfway there (149) in three games before suffering a season-end- ing foot injury. This could well be a four-star group, but it has to prove it. DEPTH ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ There's so much talent and competition in this group that it stands to reason a few will emerge with big seasons. Many of Michigan's great receivers throughout history have had breakout seasons in year two — Braylon Ed- wards (2001-04) was a 1,000-yard receiver in his second season — and we expect that trend to continue given the numbers. X-FACTOR True freshman Michael Barrett is expected to have a shot to contribute at slot receiver, and he's an explosive athlete. But he could also get a look at running back after playing quarterback and several other positions at Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes. OVERALL ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ This is probably low, but this is where they stand until they prove it on the field. There are veterans, up and comers, and even a pair of extremely athletic freshmen in Ronnie Bell and Michael Barrett. There should also be a very capable quarterback to get them the ball. "These guys are like the guys I played with, David Terrell and Marquise Walker. One thing I took away from spring ball was watching how big they are. … I think the size is definitely going to pose problems for opposing defenses." FORMER U-M WIDE RECEIVER RON BELLAMY (1999-2002)

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