Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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80 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW TIGHT ENDS BY CHRIS BALAS J ay Harbaugh's job as Michigan's tight ends coach is his first as a position coach, at the collegiate or any other level. A rookie, though, he is not. Harbaugh spent four seasons as an undergraduate assistant at Or- egon State under head coach Mike Riley (now at Nebraska), followed by three seasons working in Baltimore for the NFL's Ravens. He even earned the Super Bowl ring his father — Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh -- coveted, coaching on his uncle John Harbaugh's Ravens staff the year they beat Jim's San Francisco team in the Super Bowl. Jay Harbaugh knows football, and as anyone who knows Jim would say, he wouldn't have been hired if he didn't. And in the short time he's coached the tight ends in Ann Arbor (where he's been "so busy coaching that there's been no adjustment"), he's grown to like his bunch. "We're obviously always looking to get better, but I like the group a lot," he said. "I think we have a bunch of guys who can all do dif- ferent things well. There's some versatility, and we stayed healthy, for the most part." Great news especially for junior Jake Butt, the most heralded of a group that mixes veterans with newcomers. Butt's astoundingly fast recovery from knee surgery following an ACL tear last Febru- ary put him back on the field in time for the Wolverines' September game with Notre Dame. Though he wasn't 100 percent, the 6-6, 248-pounder started five of the 10 games in which he appeared and led the tight ends with 21 catches for 211 yards in 2014. "Jake's probably among the better pass catchers in the group," Harbaugh said. "All of them catch it pretty consistently, but not con- sistently enough. "Just like the other guys, Jake needs to consistently make the tough catches. At this position, he's going to be in traffic a ton, and the nature of the position is a lot of balls are going to be thrown off your body because there are so many people around you, hanging on you, holding you. Everybody in the group has to consistently make those kinds of plays. Even though we do for the most part, it's something I'd like to see us improve on — just making plays when we get the opportunity." Those opportunities have been few and far between for senior A.J. Williams in his first three years. The 6-6, 285-pounder has essentially been another offensive tackle, starting 11 of the 36 games in which he's appeared but catching only five passes for 35 yards with one touchdown. However, he can make receptions, Harbaugh noted, if given the chance. "He can catch it really well, probably as well as most of the other guys. He just hasn't been thrown the ball a ton," he said. "He has good hands and is certainly a guy who can pay a big role in the pass- ing game for us. I'm excited about that, and I think he is, too." Becoming a consistent blocker, play-in and play-out, is one of Wil- liams' biggest priorities for 2015. The running game needs a boost, and he has the frame to provide it. "As a blocker, he has the size and strength to be a dominant force for us," Harbaugh said. "I'm really looking for him to continue his growth in that regard like he showed this spring, where he's a guy we Year Rec. Yards TDs 2014 31 313 3 2013 70 985 9 2012 19 271 5 2011 25 262 5 2010 19 266 3 Year Rec. Yards TDs 2009 21 283 3 2008 8 110 1 2007 27 327 2 2006 39 393 3 2005 40 422 4 Offensive Production By Tight Ends UP AND COMING Michigan Is Rebuilding Its Tight End Stable Senior tight end A.J. Williams has started 11 of the 36 games in which he's appeared, but caught only fi ve passes for 35 yards with one touch- down. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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