The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 121 Heitzman started the first six games of the year, before Beyer came back to the defen- sive line when Ryan was fully healed. On top of losing his starting job, a bro- ken thumb forced Heitzman to miss two games in the middle of the season and wear a clunky cast for the rest of the year, which hindered his ability on the line. "It was definitely frustrating," Heitzman said. "It was understandable, because I real- ized I wasn't going to be 100 percent, while using one arm, but I don't know if I'd be in the same position right now if I hadn't bro- ken my thumb." Making The Transition Heitzman didn't end the 2013 season the way he wanted. So when Hoke floated the idea of moving to tight end, Heitzman im- mediately jumped on board. And, instead of bulking up even more, Heitzman is going in the opposite direction. "Really, I just stopped eating so much," he said. "I just focused on eating healthy and sticking with three meals a day. Liter- ally, that alone has helped me shed about 15 pounds. I am at 260 right now, and I want to stay around that for the season. I think that's a pretty good weight for tight end." Although he was still in the process of get- ting to his desired playing weight, Heitzman picked things up quickly, when he hit the field. "In terms of pass blocking and things like that, that stuff came back right away," Heitzman said. "The first practice I jumped in, it almost felt like riding a bicycle. You never really forget. "I still have a lot of stuff to work on. But it was definitely nice. It was a nice changeup for me. The learning process of learning the passing game and the new offensive system, that was quite a struggle, learning all the terminology and learning how the defense works from an offensive perspective. That was pretty hard. There were times during practice where I wasn't exactly sure what was going on or what my responsibilities were. "But it all came together by the end of spring, and it was really exciting to see. I felt pretty good, by the end. I think it helped me that the other tight ends were going through a little bit of what I was going through, too. They have been playing the position, but they were also learning a new system and ev- erything. The coaches were taking it a little bit slower, and they were more understand- ing if someone made a mistake, because we were all getting used to the new system." And Heitzman knows that, at his new po- sition, he has a tremendous opportunity to make an immediate impact. The Wolverines are playing without soph- omore tight end Jake Butt — for now — while he recovers from an offseason ACL injury. Just one tight end that has ever seen the field, junior A.J. Williams, played at the position in the spring. Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier's system has two distinct tight end spots: the Y and the H. The Y is the player, like Williams, who will put his hand in the dirt on the end of the line of scrimmage. The H, like Butt, will motion more and is more involved in the passing game. Heitzman is working at both spots, in hopes of finding where he fits into the scheme best. "At tight end, you can really do it all," Heitzman said. "You can run, block, every- thing. At the Y, I feel pretty good, because it's a little easier to memorize where the tight end goes and what his responsibilities are. At H, you're in motion more, and you have to learn a little bit more." But right now, Heitzman is simply focused on having the best summer he can, with the hopes of lining up as a starter, at whatever spot the Wolverines need him, when Appa- lachian State comes to Ann Arbor to kick off the 2014 season. "There is a lot of motivation to come in every day and work your hardest, because a job is on the line," Heitzman said. "The slightest difference in how you work in the summer can affect your position in the fall, so it keeps you on your toes. "I am definitely shooting to be the guy at tight end. I feel like I can go out and catch, block and make an impact. I will play any role the team needs me to play. The team always comes first, and I am always happy to do whatever they need me to. But I want to be the starting tight end and the guy that people go to. I want to be a threat, and I want to be able to help the team in a positive way. Hopefully, that comes together, but we'll have to wait and see how it plays out." ❏ Following In The Footsteps Of … Jay Riemersma Why Riemersma: Like Heitzman, Jay Riemersma (1991-95) underwent a fairly drastic position switch to tight end midway through his time in Ann Arbor. After three seasons at quarterback, during which he completed 6 of 11 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown, Riemersma transitioned to tight end for the final two seasons of his career. Heitzman and Riemersma are comparable, size-wise, though one had to slim down to play tight end and one had to bulk up. Riemersma played at 6-5, 235 in his final year as a quarterback and added 15 pounds in order to fit in along the line of scrimmage. Heitzman, on the other hand, was listed at 6-3, 280 last season and has dropped about 15 pounds since the end of the season. He wants to hover around 260 in 2014. Riemersma started 22 games at tight end over his last two seasons, finishing with 74 catches for 706 yards (9.5 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. What it could mean: Fans tend to look at position switches in a negative light, as if the only reason for the change is because coaches aren't really sure what to do with a specific player. In Heitzman's case, like Riemersma, it could mean that tight end is just a better fit for his skill set. Heitzman had a solid career at defensive end — but he could be a poten- tial asset at tight end. There are plenty of cases of players mak- ing a successful transition to tight end. After three years at quarterback, Andy Mi- gnery switched to tight end for the 2002 and 2003 seasons, compiling nine career starts and four catches for 48 yards and two touchdowns. If Heitzman can provide what either Riemersma or Mignery did, he will have a solid career. Overall: Not every tight end is going to produce like Devin Funchess did in 2012, before he played the majority of his snaps at wide receiver last year. Heitzman doesn't have to be a game-breaker or rack up a ton of catches in order to have a productive career. — Andy Reid Heitzman has embraced his position change and is determined to make an impact at tight end. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL 118-121.Keith Heitzman.indd 121 6/19/14 2:56 PM

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