Preview 2014: Tight End And Friends

Submitted by Brian on August 26th, 2014 at 2:53 PM

Previously: Podcast 6.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running back. Wide Receiver.

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Butt don't fail me now [Adam Glanzman]

Depth Chart

Fullback Yr. U-back Yr. Tight End Yr. Flex Yr.
Joe Kerridge Jr.* Khalid Hill Fr.* AJ Williams Jr. Jake Butt So.
Sione Houma Jr. Wyatt Shallman Fr.* Keith Heitzman Jr.* Ian Bunting Fr.
Bobby Henderson So.*     -- -- -- --

Just when we'd split out the various gradations in blocky-catchy guys into its own section of the preview, Al Borges had to go and get himself fired. Cumong, man.

They're all still on the roster and Michigan's going to try to use them so we're sticking with it. This section of the preview consists of everyone who isn't quite a skill position player and isn't quite an offensive linemen. Let's reprise last year's explanation of what is what to orient ourselves:

  • FULLBACK: a man with a steel plated head who runs into linebackers, gets two carries in his career, and has six catches. See: Kevin Dudley.
  • U-BACK: A "move" tight end who motions all about, rarely lines up on the actual line of scrimmage, often goes from fullback to a flared spot or vice versa, and operates as more of a receiver than the fullback. Must be a credible threat to LBs; ends career with 40 catches. See: Aaron Shea.
  • TIGHT END: Larger that the U-back, the tight end is a tight end who is actually tight to the end of the line. He comes out, lines up next to a tackle, helps him win blocks, and clobberates linebackers at the second level. He goes out into patterns as well, and may end his career with 40 catches himself. See: Tyler Ecker.
  • FLEX: Sort of like the U-back in that he rarely lines up on the line of scrimmage itself, but if he motions away from his spot near the line, it's not to fullback but wide receiver. They get a billion catches and break Jim Mandich's record eventually. See: every ND tight end ever.

And of course many of these people bleed into other categories. Think of these position designations as Gaussian distributions in close proximity to each other.

FULLBACK

kerridgejoe2[1]

Kerridge hits his upperclass years, also linebackers [Maize and Blue News]

RATING: 4

Same guys, potentially less of a role. Doug Nussmeier comes from a one-back coaching tree, and one-back guys are usually a lot more interested in putting two tight ends on the field than a fullback, because fullbacks don't threaten vertically. Given the situation at tight end and the need to bash out a yard or three on the regular, these guys will still be involved. Just maybe not quite as much.

JOE KERRIDGE remains the starter here and should hold on to that designation. It seems like he's been around forever already and he's still got a year left after this one; now is the time for him to start imposing himself on opponents. He did a fair job of doing so last year:

Opponent + - TOT Note
CMU 4.5 - 4.5 FBs did well.
Notre Dame 7.5 1 6.5 Isos were a high point.
Akron 2 - 2 Blocks got cut away from.
UConn 1.5 2 -0.5 Not heavily involved.
Minnesota 6 3.5 2.5 Let some guys under him.
Penn State 1 0.5 0.5 Blocks couldn't even become relevant.
Indiana 2.5 1 1.5  
MSU - - - DNC
Nebraska 6.5 3.5 3 Got good movement.
NW 3 1.5 1.5 Soon to be a WR.
Iowa 4.5 1 3.5 Good game, quasi third-down back.

When the blocking was good enough to make him relevant he did his job, and did it well. It was not all terrific, as he had some questionable plays against Minnesota:

But by the end of the year he was taking a bunch of snaps as a pass protector on throwing downs, acting as Gardner's lead back on occasion, and even catching things out of the backfield. I didn't chart the OSU game but I did review it and Kerridge had a quality day highlighted by this thunderous block:

My God man. I heard that this place's Heap of Smoked Linebacker was excellent, but the descriptions do not do it justice. That is Dudley-worthy there.

Nussmeier isn't likely to deviate from his belief that tight ends on or near the line of scrimmage are much more threatening to a defense than fullbacks, but when Michigan absolutely must scatter a linebacker's equipment across the field, Kerridge will be the weapon of choice.

[After THE JUMP: I googled Jake Butt's name so by god you are going to read the things I have to say about Jake Butt.]

BACKUPS

SIONE HOUMA got a fair bit of playing time himself last year, though none of it was particularly noteworthy. He has some upside Kerridge doesn't as a ballcarrier and guy who slips out of the backfield after a high school career in which he was a relatively athletic tailback.

He did some of the U-back stuff where you move from fullback to a wing TE spot in the fall scrimmages and may find some playing time based on that ability. While Kerridge has touched the ball here and there, he's more grizzly bear than anything else.

U-BACK

RATING: 3

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Hill/Shallman (Scout/247)

Michigan's TE/FB hybrids didn't play last year and may be limited in this particular role this year. KHALID HILL [recruiting profile] is likely to be drafted at Actual Tight End at least until Jake Butt gets back and perhaps a bit longer after that.

Ideally he does slide back into a dedicated H-back role, as he's a weird dude with a clear role. He's a 6'3", 260 pound guy who happens to be a great receiver. From that recruiting profile:

The first thing that really jumps off the tape about Hill is his catching radius. He can scoop a pass up off of his shoelaces or go up and make a tough catch well over his head. Hill also has good arm extension when making a catch, not allowing the ball to get close to his body. Hill is quarterback friendly and really makes an inaccurate pass look easy to catch with his natural adjustments.

If you have a guy who worries linebackers with his blocking because he is large and short-ish and then he runs by that linebacker just as he braces for impact, you have a guy who's super-useful in the redzone. Hill promises to be the sort of guy who has 12 catches and six touchdowns at the end of a season. I always mention Philip Lutzenkirchen here, so let me mention him: Philip Lutzenkirchen.

Hill is listed as the second-string tight end currently and should spend the first few games of the year pretending to be Butt, whereupon he'll probably see his playing time slashed drastically. He was reputed to need a lot of work on his blocking—he was mostly a weirdly-shaped WR in high school—and more seasoning is in order.

WYATT SHALLMAN [recruiting profile] is in fact playing at tailback after an injury-induced redshirt. Long term he fits into this bin as a guy who might get a carry or two but is much more likely to catch a pass. He redshirted last year thanks to a lingering hamstring issue; he's probably going to have to wait another year to see real time.

TIGHT END AND FLEX

RATING: 3

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This was a catch. I didn't clip it, because I am dumb. [Fuller]

Despite tearing his ACL in spring practice it's likely that JAKE BUTT [recruiting profile] returns by the start of the conference season, if not earlier, so we will give him the nod here. As a true freshman Butt took on an increasingly prominent role after Funchess was flipped to WR and the other tight ends struggled. He was the starter in the Ohio State game, and a key component of that game's offensive efficiency. That is a quality sign for his future.

Butt is potentially a huge piece of the offense. Unlike anyone else on the roster, he can be a complete tight end capable of blocking and receiving. The receiving thing is pretty obvious; in high school he would lope downfield and grab passes like a WR:

"One time he was 40 yards downfield, and I swore the ball was overthrown. He never broke stride, caught it over his shoulder. He's going to be a very accomplished pass catcher."

Butt hasn't dropped a ball in limited reps so far and has on occasion demonstrated very nice hands, like when he was interfered with against OSU but still caught the ball:

And of course, that one-handed stab pictured above that I did not clip because I am an idiot. Wait… Ace? All right, yes, Ace GIF'd it. Way to not be an idiot, Ace. This anonymous Big Ten quote is probably from a Wildcat:

"We played them late in the year, and [Butt] was someone that was really tough to defend. He's incredibly athletic. He made a catch against us that not that many receivers even make, so he has great hands. There weren't a lot of great tight ends in our league last year, so he could be the best this season."

Anyway, by year's end Michigan was featuring a lot of ND-like formations where they had three-wide shotgun personnel on the field but split Butt out wide, frequently as the first guy in a stack set. He is a true flex. The hope here is that he starts developing into one of those Eifert types ND has every damn year. FWIW, both ND and Stanford offered Butt. He comes approved by the tight end gurus from coast to… Indiana, I guess. That's still a long way.

Butt is up to 249 this year and was already competent-ish as a blocker in 2013, winning matchups against the iffy teams on the schedule and losing them against your MSUs and Iowas. He's probably not going to be a real plus in that category until next year. But since he's a threat in the passing game that's not as big of a deal. He can skip most of the pass blocking, after all, since he's in a route that has to be respected.

A commenter on the WR post pointed out that I'd already assigned an awful lot of yardage to Michigan's outside WRs, so please scale most of those expectations back 20% before you hear me assert that Butt should also be in the same range as Darboh and Chesson, with 30 or 40 catches and around 500 yards of offense, scaled down for however many games he misses. He should be pretty good this year; next year he may be a star.

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Williams had trouble blocking even little guys last year [Glanzman]

Michigan will substitute often enough and run two TE sets often enough that another guy is filed as a starter here; that is junior AJ WILLIAMS. Williams was not good a year ago unless you're Mark Snyder:

The good: A.J. Williams always has blocked well and now says he can catch also.

Why do you even pretend like you're trying? Writing "Butt" 600 times has the same informational content, and it's even slightly relevant because of Jake. How do newspapers even still exist man.

Anyway: anyone who actually watched the team last year can tell you that AJ Williams has not blocked well.

I mean… when a 230-pound freshman is doing the thing that Taylor Lewan does to CMU DEs to you, you are not having a real good play.

This was far from an isolated incident. When Williams popped up in UFRs last year it was only to pick up negatives unless it was against really terrible defenses like CMU and Indiana, and even in those games Williams had a total of +0.5. Given the way I chart for run plays to actually work you need about a 2/3rds ratio of positive to negative. Being even is bad, and that was the best Williams could do.

As a result I repeatedly complained about Michigan's insistence on putting him out there. After the UConn game I plead for Michigan to "seriously de-emphasize their tight ends" because stuff like this was happening:

From Penn State:

Putting your players in positions to succeed should also mean playing your best guys, and Michigan clearly isn't doing that. AJ Williams is struggling immensely. Examples abound but here's a crystal clear view of his inability to get a simple down block on one of those 250 pound defensive ends Indiana was blowing to the sideline:

Since the complete history of Williams's pass receiving game is here in this link, he has to get better if he's going to continue to see the field. (I mean, you'd think. I probably said that a dozen times last year.) At this point that seems unlikely.

There were a few positive blips late. He had a +3 against Northwestern when not getting routed like he was above (that hit was filed under the pass protection metric), and his Ohio State game was actually kind of good. Here he rips Joey Bosa inside decisively:

Michigan didn't get anything because the backside tackle didn't get cut, but that crease is good for some yards otherwise. Seeing Williams actually move a guy who does not play for Indiana is a new thing.

And I know that Noah Spence was barely a football player last year, but this is again major movement:

So… blips. It should be noted that on any team not enduring a terrible transition away from a spread, Williams would have redshirted and played sparingly last year, leaving us with lingering hopes instead of skepticism.

BACKUPS

Hill will get snaps as a move tight end and maybe on the line from time to time.

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Heitzman is now a tackle's friend, not enemy. [Fuller]

Michigan also moved KEITH HEITZMAN from defensive end. Heitzman was just a plugger at end, and with Michigan moving away from the 4-3 under he was a plugger without a home on D. Moving him to tight end makes a large amount of sense. If he is just a plugger at tight end that is a highly useful thing for a team that really needs its peripheral blockers to perform.

Williams is impressed, at least:

“He is super strong,” Williams said. “He has this thing where he can one arm somebody. Literally he is strong enough he can one arm people. We teach him to put that one hand inside – he moves people off the ball.” …

“I’ve had two years to adjust to the position, Keith had a spring game,” Williams said. “What he’s done is tremendous. I applaud him for that. He helps any tight end who has motivation to start just from a receiver to become a blocker, or a blocker to a receiver. I mean, you can do it.”

Heitzman completed a round trip from about 255 to 280 and back after the move, claiming that he was never comfortable at the higher weight and that he fits much better at around 255.

Heitzman has featured somewhat prominently in the fall scrimmages. He looks somewhat ponderous, more Williams than Butt, but his hands have been good when they've thrown it to him. His blocking remains in question, just like everyone else's—but it's good to have a third bullet here. I will not be surprised if he surpasses Williams to become the go-to blocking TE.

Finally, there is freshman IAN BUNTING [recruiting profile], a 6'7" wide receiver type with enormous hands who promises to be Funchess 2.0. Bunting is way more interested in blocking than Funchess and can't be as ludicrously athletic, so expect Funchess if Funchess was actually a TE. He's been packing on weight since his commitment but is still listed at 227 on the fall roster, so a redshirt beckons. The promise of a Butt/Bunting combination is an exciting one down the road.

Comments

fergusg

August 26th, 2014 at 5:31 PM ^

was a new one to me...I like it.   Though would have preferred the comment worded a little more positively / constructively for AJ...like "come on AJ, we know you have the potential to be more than a ham and egger". etc

For others in the dark (per urban dictionary):

Ham and Egger:

A common person who might be seen eating ham and eggs. Not posessing many spectacular qualities. Your 'average joe'.
Some ham and egger came into my work today.

reshp1

August 26th, 2014 at 3:25 PM ^

What do you make of Heitzman being left off of the depth chart completely? Granted, they only had one TE position listed and only 2 deep, but it seems to not bode well that they didn't even have him as an "OR" or as third string.

pearlw

August 26th, 2014 at 5:16 PM ^

i found this to be very surprising...especially seeing Khalid Hill at the second spot with Heitzman nowhere to be found. Coaches were very critical of how Hill performed in the spring. In fact, I would say Ferrigno's interview with Sam Webb about Hill during the summer was the most critical Ive seen any of these coaches be publicly towards a player. Maybe it was a motivational thing but i took it as Hill was unlikely to see meaningful snaps this year so Heitzman would be a key player at TE.

steve sharik

August 26th, 2014 at 4:09 PM ^

I had heard a buddy of mine say, "Cumong, man," a long time before it became a NFL Countdown segment on ESPN.  I tried finding the evolution of this and so, naturally, I started with a Google search.

Be advised: do NOT do a Google search for "cumong man" at work or in front of your wife/girlfriend.

I'll just leave it at that.

getsome

August 26th, 2014 at 8:05 PM ^

that clip against northwestern in aj williams section above just perfectly illustrates last years struggles on O - and thats one of types of situations they need to block correctly 99% of the time this season to be considered improved and competent.  nw rushed 5 (after very clearly showing 5 and only 5)  against mich's 5 OL, williams and RB hayes - and multiple dudes destroyed gardner, something which should never happen in that situation.  not trying to rip anyone or rehash last seaons bs, but thats just prime example of perfect storm of QB and teammates not on same page, poor technique and execution all over the place, and overall awful communication and targeting.  

im hopeful theyll be much improved this year if for no other reason than nuss gets them to line quicker while arming gardner with knowledge, time and freedom to not only identify fronts /mikes and effectively coordinate with C/ OL but also check into plus calls / out of poor calls  (plus its almost impossible to get any worse).  and that really is just the worst reporting by snyder on williams - you dont have to trash the kid, just say he still needs some work, but to say hes effective blocker?

ThoseWhoStayUofM

August 27th, 2014 at 9:31 AM ^

How can you say that Bunting has been "packing on weight" when his recruiting profile lists him at 227 lbs. and the fall roster also lists him at 227 lbs?  Unless I'm doing my math wrong, Bunting has definitionally NOT been packing on weight.