Michigan Football Preview 2019

Digital Edition

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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78 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2019 FOOTBALL PREVIEW TIGHT ENDS BY JOHN BORTON G one are the days of three-tight-end sets, and two-tight-end configurations are likely on the endangered species deployment list at The Big House. Rest assured, though, senior tight end Sean McKeon, redshirt junior Nick Eubanks and friends won't be wearing "For Display Purposes Only" labels below the names on their uniforms. In the pro spread look di- rected by new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, Michigan's big pass catchers aren't going away. "It's all about your personnel and what you can do with the guys you have," tight ends coach Sherrone Moore noted. "So it's been really helpful that I know the guys, from a physical standpoint, what they can do on the field. "And then from a personal standpoint, getting to know them a little more, since I've been here a year, it's helped." His players intend to help themselves in the new offense. "The coaches are giving opportunity for the playmakers to make plays," Eubanks said. "That's what he's emphasizing on of- fense. That's where we're going. "I've been taking a look at where he's been coaching, at Alabama. [Crimson Tide tight end] Irv Smith … I've been looking at him a lot, too." While few tight ends in the country mea- sure up to Smith's receiving stats in Tus- caloosa last year — 44 catches, 710 yards, seven touchdowns — Michigan isn't bereft of proven production and young potential. It starts with McKeon, the 6-5, 251-pounder who earned letters his first three seasons in Ann Arbor. An honorable mention All-Big Ten performer the past two seasons, McKeon enjoyed his best receiving season so far as a sophomore in 2017, snagging 31 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns. The recep- tion and receiving touchdown totals led U-M, while the yardage was just six behind team leader Grant Perry. Last year, he made 14 catches for 122 yards and a single score. He'll be looking to increase those numbers this year, but it won't be easy, given Michigan's deep and talented corps of wide receivers. Eubanks noted he has learned a lot about blocking as a tight end from McKeon and Zach Gentry, who jumped to the NFL fol- lowing last season. The redshirt junior also noted McKeon and the rest of the U-M tight ends are learning to attack in the offense they've been given. "Coach Gattis is always preaching, you've got to be the type to bite back," Eubanks said. "That's what we've been working on, on of- fense, being able to bite back on the defense, not always accepting what they can do." Eubanks himself accepted the huge task of switching offenses and getting quickly up to speed. He came away from spring football feeling much better about the transition. "It's knowing all the assignments, like coming from outside to inside," he said. "Lining up outside and inside, knowing the concepts. It's just been a big blessing for me to do that, so I'm taking advantage of it right now. "My blocking got way better. I don't have to work on that as much, but I've been target- ing that. Blocking is a big assignment for me." Last fall, Eubanks caught eight passes for 157 yards and a touchdown, making him the returning tight end with the most receiving yards posted last fall. He can catch it, but him catching on to a higher level of blocking ability remains a key for the Wolverines in 2019, Moore insisted. "It's a credit to him and what he's done this offseason," Moore said of Eubanks' over- all improvement. "He hasn't had any drops. He's going to catch the ball and make com- petitive catches. I'm really proud of him as a receiver. "Nick has always had the natural receiving ability, but he's taken a step in the run game to help himself. He really wants to be more physical and do those things. Having those two is really good." Having those two — McKeon and Eu- banks — is a good start to a tight ends crew, Moore acknowledges. But the talent coming up behind them could be creating a stir be- fore too long. Redshirt freshman Mustapha Muhammad out of Texas certainly possesses the physical skills coaches look for in a potential play- maker. He's 6-4, listed on the roster at 245 pounds, with hands that allowed him to catch 68 passes for 1,040 yards and 12 touchdowns as a prep standout. PRESEASON ANALYSIS: TIGHT ENDS STARTER ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Senior Sean McKeon has plenty of what is necessary to enjoy a productive senior season for the Wolverines. He's been on the field extensively, can run, catch the football while looking back, etc. It just remains to be seen how his skills fit into what new offen- sive coordinator Josh Gattis is seeking, and how well McKeon complements a hungry wideout corps. DEPTH ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Depth shouldn't be a problem, although initially, experience will be lacking. Red- shirt junior Nick Eubanks is a talented pass catcher getting better in the run game, but redshirt freshmen Mustapha Muhammad and Luke Schoonmaker have one field ap- pearance between them. They'll need to get some action early. X-FACTOR True freshman Erick All turned heads throughout spring ball. If he keeps it up in the fall, there's a chance he could see some time on the field. The fierce competitor doesn't appear to be waiting his turn in the effort category, and the talent is there. OVERALL ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ This rating carries more of an incomplete feel than any on the offensive side of the board. That's not an indictment of the tal- ent available, but a question mark about the tight end fit in Michigan's new offense. September will reveal plenty. QUICK FACTS Position Coach: Sherrone Moore (second year). Returning Starters: Sean McKeon (16), Nick Eubanks (5). Departing Starter: Zach Gentry (24 career starts). Projected New Starter: None. Top Reserves: Mustapha Muhammad, Erick All. Wait Until 2020: Luke Schoonmaker. Newcomers: All. Moved In: None. Moved Out: None. Rookie Impact: All. Most Improved Player: Eubanks. Best Pro Prospects: McKeon, Eubanks. Ready and Willing Tight Ends Won't Disappear In U-M's New Offense

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