The Wolverine

2020 Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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74 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW TIGHT ENDS BY CHRIS BALAS S ay what you want about Michigan's tight end group — that they're un- proven beyond fifth-year senior Nick Eubanks, maybe, or that even Eubanks has a lot still to prove as a blocker. There's been potential here for a few years now, some would add, but this unit just hasn't quite lived up to the standard Jake Butt did before leaving for the NFL in 2016 as a record- setting All-American. But oh, do they relish their opportunities to express themselves … at least a few of them. In late April, sophomore tight end and Ohio native Erick All grabbed U-M redshirt freshman linebacker and Columbus' own Joey Velazquez for a workout, and they did it in the shadow of The Horseshoe, Ohio Stadium, at Lincoln Tower Park's turf fields. "Get off our field," one OSU media outlet tweeted after All, Velazquez and a few others posted their photos online. "Come take us off," All responded on Twitter. Yes, the rivalry is alive and well, even in the time of COVID-19. But the time for talking is after a win, something the Wolverines haven't done enough of lately against the Buckeyes. OSU has gotten the better of U-M in the trenches in many of their recent wins, and getting more physical at the tight end position is one area in which the Wolverines need to respond. "If you're a tight end, you will be on the field 100 percent of the time if you are reli- able in the run game," former Michigan All- American offensive lineman Jon Jansen said. "A lot of guys can go out there and catch balls and they've got good hands, are good athletes, flexible. "The offense is built to give the tight ends great opportunities in the pass game. But if they want to be the one who gets their num- ber on the field and be the one that gets their name called for the NFL Draft, they've got to prove that they can set the edge." It's not so much the case on the front side, where the offensive linemen are clearing the way. That's their No. 1 priority, and that's why they were recruited, after all. But there are a lot of ways to be able to get a tight end into position for the backside cutoffs, and that (and blocking overall) is an area in which Eubanks can improve. "Those are so important, and it's been a long time since we've had a tight end that understood getting his head across … you don't always have to drive a guy," Jansen explained. "It's great if you can, and you can use leverage, but all you've got to do a lot of the time is be a speed bump. "If you slow that backside guy down, you make him run the long way around the edge. Then as soon as one of those running backs stick their feet in the ground, they know they can cut back and they've got a running lane." Last year, Michigan tight ends caught 41 passes for 542 yards and seven touchdowns. Eubanks reeled in 25 of them for 243 yards and four scores in 13 games played to lead the way and earn his first All-Big Ten honors (honorable mention), though it was part of a less-than-usual output from the position under Jim Harbaugh. That figures to change this year. Gattis has vowed to use all weapons at his disposal, and the 6-4 All has all the makings of a great pass catcher from the position. The sophomore played in 11 games and caught just one pass for 10 yards playing be- hind Eubanks, now-graduated Sean McKeon and redshirt sophomore Luke Schoonmaker, but showed signs of becoming an elite blocker. Though only 229 pounds last sea- son, All was called a "heat-seeking missile" by coaches and teammates. "I think Erick All is going to be a big weapon this year," Jansen said. "He'll get more opportunity. I like his mindset; it's, 'Ask me to do something and I'm going to do it the best I possibly can.' "I really like his attitude and just his men- tality on the football field. He's not afraid of anything. If he makes a mistake, it doesn't seem to affect him. He goes out there and tries to make sure he doesn't make the same mistake twice." Something easier said than done for a freshman. His coaches and teammates raved about his love for hitting — "con- tact courage," as Jansen refers to it — but he wasn't always sure what he was doing on every play. Head coach Jim Harbaugh spoke glowingly of All's want-to in the middle of last season, but he also said he expected him to get better when it came to his blocking assignments. It will get easier for him, Jansen said, not- QUICK FACTS Position Coach: Sherrone Moore (third season). Returning Starter: Nick Eubanks (15 career starts). Departing Starter: Sean McKeon (23). Projected New Starter: None. Top Reserves: Erick All and Luke Schoonmaker. Wait Until 2021: Matt Hibner. Newcomers: Hibner. Moved In: None. Moved Out: Mustapha Muhammad (transferred to Houston). Rookie Impact: None. Most Improved Player: All. Best Pro Prospect: Eubanks. Something to Prove Tight Ends Have A Role In 'Speed In Space' — If They Step Up PRESEASON ANALYSIS: TIGHT ENDS STARTER Fifth-year senior Nick Eubanks has proven to be a very good pass catcher, but he needs to improve his blocking to take his game to the next level. Still, he is a proven mismatch on pass routes and can even stretch the field from his position, something we could see more of in year two of offensive coordinator Josh Gattis' "speed in space" offense. DEPTH Sophomore Erick All had a tremendous spring a year ago and has great potential. He could be one of the better blockers U-M has had at tight end in a long time if he under- stands who to target and when, and he has got great hands. He and redshirt sophomore Luke Schoonmaker have the potential to be a great set of backups, but the need to take leaps this year. X-FACTOR All could be a game changer as a blocker the likes of which Michigan hasn't seen in years. He's not big, but he packs a punch and moves people from his position. That and a more athletic offensive line could provide huge divi- dends in the run game. OVERALL There's talent here, but much of it is still unproven … and that includes Eubanks. The fifth-year senior is athletic enough to become one of the better players Michigan has had at the position — can he dial it up a notch and become an all-conference performer? He has the ability.

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