Post-Mortem: Wideouts and Tight Ends Comment Count

Brian January 22nd, 2009 at 3:34 PM

A position-by-position look at Michigan's 2009 season. Previously: Quarterbacks and Running backs.

martavious-odoms-run greg-mathews-illinois carson-butler-jail-yo

Martavious Odoms, Greg Mathews, Carson Butler's Meathead Lawyer, and Carson Butler

Preseason Expectations

Though you could somewhat reasonably grade this position "incomplete," the preseason sunniness

Despite the early departures of Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington to the NFL, Michigan has stockpiled a considerable amount of talent at wide receiver and tight end and the dropoff shouldn’t be severe. There will be a dropoff, though, as no one on the roster save maybe Darryl Stonum can hope to replicate Manningham’s explosive deep routes, and Stonum is just a freshman.

…was obviously too sunny. Greg Mathews starred as Jason Avant 2.0:

The upside here is Jason Avant, a reliable guy on a variety of short routes with outstanding hands and the strength to get off a jam. (We haven't actually seen the outstanding hands, yet, as Mathews has been reliable but unspectacular in the catching-stuff category, but Avant's reliability was only a theory before Braylon left.)

Toney Clemons, Junior Hemingway, and Darryl Stonum were all mentioned on the outside. This was wrong as hell:

Normally the most optimistic projection for Stonum’s freshman year would be something similar to that turned in by Mario Manningham—27 catches, 433 yards, 6 touchdowns—but the early enrollment should help him see the field earlier and more frequently. Forty or even fifty catches is not out of the question.

No, this did not happen. I didn't fall for the LaTerryal-Savoy-is-starting bait, though, saying "the bet here is that once Hemingway’s injury and Stonum’s inexperience subside so will Savoy’s prominence on the depth chart."

In the slot, Martavious Odoms was declared the man. This was not a tough call since Michigan had zero other oompa-loompas on the team with functioning appendages. The praise came in on the high side:

Unlike many guys Odoms' size, he's always been a receiver, and few players can claim to have the extensive in-game experience he has. Practice reports have been universally positive, praising his hands, toughness, silky-smooth moves and ability to make the first tackler miss. I go back to what a Floridian high school football veteran and Friend of Blog told me unprompted when Odoms committed:

He's a tough SOB. Small cat, really tough, will remind you of Steve Smith. Very, very fast. I'm a huge Martavious Odoms fan, you'll love him.

Watch out for him; this is one of those guys you see named “Moss” playing for Miami and think to yourself "goddamn why can't we ever have kids like that?" Practice reports are very encouraging; he sounds like a Steve Breaston if Breaston had been a natural-born receiver. He’s listed as the starter in the slot for Utah. You will see plenty of him.

At tight end, Carson Butler was declared to have "the potential to be ridiculously good as long as he’s not asked to block anyone ever" and the preview basically threw up its hands:

I have no idea what to expect out of Butler this year. He could be an All-American caliber performer (he’s unlikely to get enough catches to be an actual All-American) in a contract year for him. He could lose his job in week two.

It was door #2 for Butler. Backup Mike Massey got a thorough "meh":

In three years of sporadic onfield action, Massey hasn’t done much except almost make a couple of spectacular catches. He was the tentative starter last year until the injury in the Northwestern game. He seems totally average, a guy who will catch the balls he should and make most of the blocks he should but excel in no way whatsoever.

Kevin Koger, meanwhile, was declared likely to receive "a smattering of snaps in preparation for a starting job next year."

Well, that happened, I guess

It's hard to judge this group on their own merits when balls were so often whizzed (or floated) well over their heads and a series of wide receiver screens against Minnesota qualified as the most competent series of passes over the whole season. Receivers without quarterbacks are ornaments, and the stats bear this out.

So do the comments on the UFR receiverchart.

Penn State:

No drops; few opportunities to do so. One good catch from Koger.

Purdue:

Mostly fine, with no routine drops. Not many opportunities.

Michigan State:

An okay day, with the one big drop from Stonum that would have provided Michigan a (likely meaningless) touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

Toledo:

Not much to go around, really, with the 0/2 in Clemons' 2 category the biggest issues. It's hard to blame Clemons for either, really, but I think Avant makes those catches. Or Mathews, actually.

You get the idea. Not enough data so I make big.

In the slot, the job was Odoms' as soon as Robinson went down. He quickly proved to be Michigan's most versatile and reliable receiver, catching a wide variety of bubble screens and having good success on wheel routes until opponents figured out that that was about the only thing Michigan's passing game had going for them. He still ran a bunch of routes that weren't quite right and dropped a few balls, most notably in the horrible frigid pounding death rain that suffused all things during the Northwestern game. That game also featured a series of increasingly spectacular Odoms fumbles.

Those fumbles and his general absence during the Ohio State game have soured many folks on Odoms going forward; projections that Robinson or incoming recruit Jeremy Gallon will wrest the job away are common on the internets, but Odoms is going to have a lot of experience on both those guys, both of whom were primarily high school quarterbacks. He remains the heavy favorite to be the top slot guy this fall.

On the outside, Mathews was a constant and basically lived up to expectations. In tough conditions against Notre Dame he came through with a couple excellent catches and was a razor-thin review away from a circus catch touchdown. Later against Minnesota there was this note:

Also note that Mathews is the only guy to have hauled in any "1s" so far this year (other than Butler, who no longer plays offense); he's the guy with the hands.

He's not electric and he doesn't dust people by five yards but most programs would be perfectly happy to have him as their possession go-to guy.

As for the other guy on the outside, well… Clemons ended up Odoms' backup in the slot because of the Robinson injury. Hemingway had a promising start but was shut down by mono on top of his shoulder and ankle injuries. (Yes, this blog has considered changing Angry Michigan Safety Hating God's name to Angry Junior Hemingway Hating God.) Stonum was a starter much of the year but dropped a lot of balls, picked up a DUI arrest, and was generally disappointing. The real answer to "who is Michigan's second outside receiver?" was "nobody." If pressed further you'd have to go with Stonum's 14 catches and one touchdown.

At tight end, Butler quickly played himself out of the starting job, moved to defense midway through the season, was rumored to have challenged Rodriguez to a fight, and "entered the NFL draft," by which we mean "was basically kicked off the team." If Butler has a future in doing athletic-type things, it's as a heel professional wrestler. Just ask cruiserweight champion That Kid Who Wants To Borrow An Iron.

Also, poor Mike Massey. It's not like he ever did anything positive in his time on the field, but whenever he had the opportunity someone else had to go and screw it up:

[Against Northwestern] Mike Massey was targeted three times, all of them uncatchable. This is the Golden Law of Mike Massey: whenever he is open for a touchdown, the ball will be overthrown. Mike Massey could be open by ten yards against OSU and the quarterback will throw it so high it hits a bird.

Massey's career expired with nary a catch his final year. He has a future as a stockbroker or something, I guess, so it's not too bad.

Your unexpected King of the Royal Tight End Rumble was actually Kevin Koger, who reeled in… uh… six catches. But one of those was a touchdown, so that's cool.

2009, And Beyond

Despite a bevy of transfer rumors, the whole gang is scheduled to return in 2009. Greg Mathews is what he is: a quality possession receiver who's not going to stretch many defenses. Mathews in a nutshell:

That's one-on-one press coverage against a crappy Minnesota cornerback. He gets very little separation, forcing him to make a spectacular catch, which he does. Ideally he'd be a #2 receiver on a good team; on this one it looks like there is no true #1. 

Other contenders on the outside are Stonum, who did not have a Manningham-esque freshman campaign, Hemingway, Clemons, and possibly James Rogers or a freshman. At this point most hopes are pinned on Hemingway, who looked like the sort of explosive leaper who can catch himself some downfield jump balls, and by God Michigan can throw a downfield jump ball with the best of 'em. The other hope is that Stonum gets a lot better and fast. At this point I don't think much is expected from Clemons or Rogers. Joining the fun this year is redshirt freshman Roy Roundtree, who's supposed to be a twig-sized version of Mathews.

In the slot, Odoms returns. He'll be joined by Robinson and Jeremy Gallon, the Apopka single-wing quarterback and star of Army All-American practices. Having multiple slot threats should improve performance from the spot, as in four-wide packages two can show up at the same time, forcing the defense to defend against screens on both side of the field. If Odoms is hurt or not performing someone can step in for him.

At tight end, Koger returns and should/may/could have help from redshirt sophomore Martell Webb, who played some as a true freshman before wholly disappearing last year, and redshirt freshman Brandon Moore, who could end up anything from a hulking 6'6" receiver to an offensive tackle.

Everyone returns, so production should be better, but unless Stonum takes a great leap forward or Gallon is just ridiculous it looks like a corps closer to the just-okay 2005 unit, which had Avant and Breaston but no real deep threat.

Comments

B Ready

January 22nd, 2009 at 3:45 PM ^

If Stokes or Haulstead commits, I would expect them to receive some PT, and for Rogers to switch back to corner. He has no future at WR. Teric Jones may also see some time at slot receiver, or Smith might, as well. I would imagine that RR wants a solid four guys there for that position next year, as opposed to, uh, the one we had last year. Another hypothetical: assuming Minor takes the reins at RB, Shaw could be a dynamo in the slot. And, of course, Feagin, may also be there full-time next year.

On the outside, I would expect Matthews, Stonum, Hemingway, and Stokes (please commit!) to get almost all of the PT. And, I imagine Koger is the only TE on the roster who really has a future at that position for us. Watson, Webb and Moore could/probably should all switch positions in the near future to bolster our depth on the oline/dline.

srgeeding

January 22nd, 2009 at 3:54 PM ^

hopefully stokes commits and stallworth is fast and could be a wide reciver or slot reciver.....i read something the other day about Terrell Mitchel maybe thinking about michigan, he is a tight end.....

last years recievers should all be better this year with a year in the system...

plus a more accurate qb would help along with a consistant running game

i think we are gonna be ok this comming fall maybe a few more commits and we will be in decent shape.

go blue!!!

tbliggins

January 22nd, 2009 at 4:03 PM ^

I agree w/ B Ready on some position changes. I would love to see Watson put on some lbs and become a huge blocking TE for a jumbo package. I would also love to see Moore make the switch to DE. It seems he is much more likely to be a difference maker there than at TE.

Jeff

January 22nd, 2009 at 4:07 PM ^

I only vaguely remembered reading the story about "not enough data so I make big" so I googled it to refresh my memory.

It seems like you are the only person on whom that phrase made a large enough impression to write about it. That's a little unexpected, because it actually is a pretty sweet phrase and on the internet usually you can find lots of people who remember little things like that.

markusr2007

January 22nd, 2009 at 5:24 PM ^

I assure you that Mario Manningham would not be in the NFL if Sheridan or Threet were his QBs for 4 years.

Michigan may very well have the Big Ten conference's best cast of wide receivers and slot receivers.

The problem is not the talent, speed or ability. There were some dropped passes last year, yes. And there were times when the receivers just didn't work to get open.

But what I witnessed 8 times out of 10 were Michigan QBs that either were overlooking wide open receivers, holding on to the ball too long, overthrowing or underthrowing badly, running for their lives, fumbling, or getting sacked. Part of this was due to poor OL pass blocking, but a large part of the problem was just have poor QB leadership.

Other than Carson Butler last year, I just don't see WR and slot as a problem position for Michigan. If anything, it's the one are of strength (speed + talent) that Michiganshould have entering the 2009 campaign.

This is why landing 2 QBs is so critical to Michigan this year. Forcier is going to be a better passer than Threet, in all likelihood. If Forcier were to go down to injury, it WOULD BE a 2008 season redux, unless Threet does the following:

- works out like a banshee in the offseason and improves his throwing motion and accuracy
- puts a titanium plate around his elbow
- wears a thicker helmet

colin

January 22nd, 2009 at 5:38 PM ^

Hemingway at least showed something in his brief appearances, particularly against a Utah squad that can clearly cover. But he's basically the only lottery ticket on the outside at this point. IOWIAWTP.

blueman

January 22nd, 2009 at 5:55 PM ^

He will be the go to guy this year. Yes, he is a little bigger Avant and is primarily a possession type. He is the complete package-he has the best hands of all the WRs, he can beat the jam at the line, he runs precise routes, he can make the contested catch against a tough DB, he is fearless over the middle, he is fast enough to get some separation and here he stands alone, he is one hell of a down field blocker which is so important to the running game. Except for Koger, (who had 6 catches in '08) no other receiver was anywhere near as accomplished. Down field blocking is almost a lost cause with this bunch, especially with Odoms who just doesn't ever do it. They run sloppy routes, fail to get separation and led by Odoms dropping passes and fumbling was rampant.

We need someone to stretch the field vertically as the WR opposite Mathews. That is not Hemingway who is not overly speedy. Stonum is, but see above deficiencies-he had them all from time to time. In general, fans have this group overrated. Yes the QB/OL situation was a major factor in the demise of the passing game but when these guys had a chance only Mathews was consistantly there.

Magnus

January 23rd, 2009 at 5:58 AM ^

Welcome to the world of sports. Freshman WR's have the same responsibility as senior WR's - they have to get the job done. It's like when you first start a job and your boss tells you, "Okay, you're doing such-and-such a task right now. Now we need you to start taking on other responsibilities. And you forgot to do ____________."

"Criticism" is not bashing. Were you one of those kids who thought the teacher hated you whenever you got less than an "A"?

iawolve

January 22nd, 2009 at 10:13 PM ^

The most damning comment in the entry was "2005 unit, which had Avant and Breaston but no real deep threat". I mean seriously. Could he just not run routes or the coaching staff was just that mystified by his talents?

so bored at work

January 23rd, 2009 at 10:08 AM ^

So can we attribute his 1000 yard season and looking like a legit wide receiver to lessons from Fitzgerald (and maybe Boldin)? Because I don't know about anyone else, but forget Warner, Whisenhunt/Steelers, etc., for me the primary storyline of this Super Bowl has been "when did Steve Breaston learn to catch like a wide receiver and run routes other than a fly pattern?"

inshallah

January 22nd, 2009 at 10:28 PM ^

I happened to be within earshot of Massey in the UGLI last year and he was struggling with basic Stats. I'm pretty sure he's not going to be a stockbroker...