The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 115 TE Finding An H Where Butt's absence will truly be felt is at the H spot, where the Wolverines are working with two players who have never seen the field as a tight end, in the hopes of finding someone who can contribute right away. Redshirt junior Keith Heitzman, who started as a defensive end and tight end for Hilliard (Ohio) High School, joined the tight end corps this offseason, after three seasons and seven career starts at defensive end. "It was a discussion with all the coaches," Ferrigno said. "We talked about a lot of different kids, and Keith seemed to be the best fit. He has a lot to learn, but he is very willing and he has some real ability. He catches the ball better than you'd think for a defensive lineman, and he runs better than you'd think. "He is a decent blocker. Going from defense to offense — and all the things you have to learn in the system — he is doing fine, but he has a ways to go. He has good feet, and he's strong. He is probably the strongest tight end we have. That package of skills right there, we were excited about when we decided to move him over. We think he's a tough kid, and we needed another good blocker, and he fit that mold right away." Heitzman (6-3, 271) has been taking reps at both the Y and H spots, but with Williams' role at the Y, he can make an important and immediate impact at the H. "The biggest challenges are just learning what to do, so when you take your stance, there is no question. You're not playing apprehensively. You're just playing. That will come. By the time fall ball is over, he will know exactly what to do, and he will be a better player. You can't play tentatively anywhere on the football field, and I think he was a little bit that way this spring. "He is a team player, and he wants to win. He knows he can help us on either side of the ball, but when we presented the opportunity to him and he looked at the depth chart, he saw that he has a chance to play a whole lot on offense. He's excited about that. I am pleased with him. I like his attitude, and I like that he was willing to help the team however he could. "I like the progress he is making. Fifteen days in spring wasn't enough for him. He needed 30, 40 days, because it's been so long since he has played the position." Redshirt freshman Khalid Hill is Michigan's other option at the H position, heading into fall camp. The 6-2, 255-pound Hill is not the prototypical size that the Wolverine coaches are looking for in a tight end, but Hoke and Ferrigno knew, as soon as they saw him play at East English Village High School in Detroit, that he could be an asset. "The first time I saw him, I saw a very talented kid who could run really well for a kid that weighs 250 pounds," Ferrigno said. "He could block, which was encouraging. That was my initial impression. I thought he could fit at either spot, H or Y. I know a lot of tight ends are 6-5, 6-6, but there is something to a strong kid who can get underneath a defensive end's pads from the get-go, because he's only 6-2. "He played tackle, tight end, wide receiver, slot receiver — you name it, he played it. We like that versatility, because it kind of proves that he's going to be able to do what you ask of him at the next level. We liked that, too." Hill did not see the field as a rookie last year, and he still has work to do, before the coaches feel comfortable throwing him out there in 2014. "He has a ways to go, yet," Ferrigno said. "A little bit like Keith, What I Would Be Doing If I Wasn't Coaching Dan Ferrigno never put a lot of thought into his future, beyond the football field. During his playing days at San Francisco State, under the tutelage of his mentor Vic Rowen, Ferrigno changed his major from business to English before finally settling on physical education, hop- ing to get a job at a high school where he could coach. When he left San Francisco State, spending a summer with the Den- ver Broncos before getting cut, Ferrigno had not finished his degree. He returned to San Francisco, where Rowen, in cahoots with the athletic director at a local high school, set up an interview for Ferrigno as the school's football coach. Ferrigno went to one practice — and knew immediately that he wanted to coach in some capacity. The only problem was, Ferringo couldn't have the job. He needed a college degree. For the next three years, he went to school during the day and bartended at night, eventually earning his teaching certificate. When he achieved his goal, Rowen offered him a graduate assistant coaching position at San Francisco State. "My dad died when I was in college, and Coach Rowen became like a father to me," Ferrigno said. "All those stories you hear about college coaches, this was the guy for me. If I didn't have him in my life, who knows where I'd be? Really, because he kept me focused. He was a special guy. That is how I stumbled into college coaching." Over the next seven years, Ferrigno was a grad assistant for Rowen, Bob Toledo at University of Pacific and Roger Theder at Cal, never mak- ing more than $2,000 in a year. When Cal went 2-9 in 1981, the staff knew it would be let go at the end of the season. "Jack Harbaugh was the defensive coordinator at Stanford at the time," Ferrigno recalled. "He got the job at Western Michigan. We're walking off the field after we played Stanford, and my boss, Roger Theder, was walking with Jack off the field. Jack says, 'I'm up for that Western Michigan job. If I get it, do you have any young coaches who I should take a look at?' Roger grabs me by the arm and says, 'Here.' Two days later, I had a full-time job at Western, and I have never looked back. "I have been coaching for 38 years. I would probably be a high school teacher, because that is what I wanted to be. I kind of stumbled into college coaching. Even then, I'd be coaching in high school." — Andy Reid PRESEASON ANALYSIS: TIGHT ENDS Starter ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ The Wolverines will use a situational approach to the tight end starter. Although A.J. Williams is focusing on getting more involved in the passing game, he is primarily a blocking option. Redshirt junior Keith Heitzman proved to be a good target in the pass- ing game in the spring, and sophomore Jake Butt will be an immediate boost when he returns from injury. Depth ✪ ✪ The loss of Butt for three to four games and Funchess to the wide receiving corps leaves the Wolverines fairly thin at tight end, forcing the coaches to move Heitzman from defensive end to tight end. Other than Williams and Heitzman, the Wolverines have redshirt freshman Khalid Hill, who could contribute at the H position, and walk-on Michael Jocz. X-Factor In two years as a consistent starter, Williams has caught just one pass, a one-yard touchdown on a broken play at Iowa. Michigan head coach Brady Hoke said during spring practice that Williams was catching more passes and getting more involved in the passing game than at any other time in his career. If Williams, a big-bodied 6-6, 250, can contribute and provide fifth-year senior Devin Gardner with a steady outlet option, it would provide a big boost to the offense, especially in two-tight-end sets. Overall ✪ ✪ ✪ Butt's injury was a big blow for the tight end corps, especially after his promising freshman season in which he steadily improved as the year went on. That being said, the Wolverines are very pleased with his rehab progress and are hoping to get him back ear- lier than initially expected. The addition of Heitzman has been a pleasant surprise, but a lack of depth is definitely concerning for a unit that lacks proven, consistent playmakers. Note: Star rankings are made on a scale of 1-5 stars. 113-117.TEs.indd 115 6/19/14 2:03 PM

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