Michigan Football Preview 2013

2013 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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TE U-M Tight Ends Returning To Old Form In the 1990s, the Wolverines had one of the most steadily reliable tight end corps in the country. From 1994-99, at least two tight ends caught at least one touchdown pass every season. During that streak, standout tight end Jerame Tuman put together two of the best seasons by a tight end in program history, totaling 62 catches for 961 yards and 10 touchdowns in 1996 and '97. In those years, tight ends caught 26 total touchdowns (4.3 touchdowns per year). At the turn of the century, U-M's tight end numbers began to drop off slightly. During the run of high tight end productivity in from 1994-99, at least one tight end amassed at least 247 receiving yards every season. From 2000-10, just four total tight ends achieved that feat: Bennie Joppru in 2002 (53 catches for 579 yards and five scores), Tyler Ecker in 2005 (21 catches for 285 yards and two scores), Carson Butler in 2007 (20 catches for 248 yards and two scores) and Kevin Koger in 2009 (14 catches for 199 yards and two scores). Since Michigan head coach Brady Hoke took over before the 2011 season, the tight end position has undergone a renaissance, of sorts. In Hoke's first season, Koger, then a senior, set career highs in catches (23), yards (244) and touchdowns (four). Last season, true freshman Devin Funchess caught 15 passes for 234 yards and a team-high five touchdowns. In 2013, the tight ends, while young, could be dangerous. Funchess is poised for another productive season. Sophomore A.J. Williams, who has been deployed mainly as a blocking tight end, has working extensively this offseason to increase his route-running and pass-catching abilities. And freshman Jake Butt joins the fold. Butt is an early enrollee who caught 68 passes for 907 yards and 12 touchdowns for Pickerington North High School in Pickerington, Ohio, last season. As the Wolverines continue their transition back to a pro-style offense, tight ends will increasingly become more integral to offensive production. And this year, they have a chance to put up some big numbers. Multiple Tight Ends With A Touchdown In A Season, Last 15 Years Year Player (Touchdowns) 2011 Kevin Koger (4) Steve Watson (1) Kevin Koger (2) 2010 Martell Webb (1) 2009Kevin Koger (2) Martell Webb (1) 2006 Tyler Ecker (2) Carson Butler (1) 2005Tyler Ecker (2) Mike Massey (2) 2003 Tim Massaquoi (2) Andy Mignery (2) 2001Bennie Joppru (1) Shawn Thompson (1) Deitan Dubuc (1) 1999 Aaron Shea (3) Bennie Joppru (2) Shawn Thompson (1) 1998Jerame Tuman (2) Aaron Shea (1) Catches 23 1 14 5 16 4 12 19 21 8 15 3 17 4 3 38 4 14 27 16 Yards 244 9 199 67 220 44 155 166 285 51 199 48 118 37 28 289 51 162 247 154 108  ■  The Wolverine 2013 Football Preview excellent blocker. At Michigan, Ferrigno, Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges have carved out two distinct tight end positions, with separate responsibilities. There's the U position, similar to the New England Patriots' Aaron Hernandez: a big, fast, physical player who can motion within the scheme to create playmaking mismatches. And the Y position, more of an extension of the offensive line. The Y must be able to block defensive ends and linebackers, opening up holes in the run game. Although these positions have different responsibilities, the coaches' future vision is to have versatile players who can seamlessly fill either role on a play-by-play basis. Tight ends coach Dan Ferrigno, now in his third season on the U-M staff, has helped revitalize the position group at Michigan. photo by lon horwedel "The dilemma you have in recruiting is this: do I take all big guys who can block and make them tight ends, or do I take great athletes, let them get bigger and stronger, teach them how to block and develop a great player?" Ferrigno asked. "That is what we do. We do more of that than just taking a lot of big guys. "In the country, there might be four or five guys in every class like that. That number is getting smaller, because no one is playing with tight ends anymore, at least not ones that are the total package. Of that four or five, there may be one or two great ones." The Wolverines have made it a mission to stockpile those players. And U-M's tight end corps — one of the youngest position groups on the field — is getting closer and closer to that goal every day, a transformation led by sophomores Devin Funchess and A.J. Williams. Building A Better Tight End Last season, the Wolverines had no choice but to delay their plans for well-rounded overall tight ends and take a more specialized approach to the U and Y positions. When fifth-year senior tight end Brandon Moore suffered a knee injury in the season-opening game versus Alabama, Michigan turned to Funchess and Williams, who came into the program as very different players. When he first arrived in Ann Arbor, Funchess was a 6-5, 205-pound beanpole wide receiver/tight end who had almost never played from a three-point stance. On the flip side, Williams, 6-6, 265, played exclusively at offensive tackle as a high school senior. "We saw how explosive Devin was, how fluid he was in his route running," Ferrigno said. "We have been fortunate to be able to coach some guys that had that body type and skill set. I'm not saying Devin is Tony Gonzalez at this point in his career, but he has the ability

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