It’s been a strange path for Carson Butler over the last three years. Initially he was a promising freshman tight end with obscene offensive potential but no ability to block. Then he was the sophomore malcontent who got himself booted off the team for participating in a St. Patrick’s Day pounding of a fellow student. Then he was the kid trying to redeem himself in 2007, while going in and out of Carr’s doghouse. Now he’s a prostyle tight end trying to figure out how he fits into a new and complex offensive system. It's hard to imagine what other obstacles are going to lay themselves in front of this very talented young man. But one thing is certain, Butler will find a way over or through them on his way to a successful 2008 season.
With the depletion of the Michigan receiving corps, as one of Michigan’s few returning offensive threats, Butler has the potential to be the primary offensive passing threat in Rodriguez system. Sure there are other tight ends, running backs and Greg Mathews. But realistically, Butler can not only be a safety valve for Threet or Sheridan, but the primary short yardage target and chain mover in the flats. This is a bold statement, but it's certainly not outside his talent. However, all this depends on whether Butler can harness his immense potential and transform it into a complete game.
Butler is charitably described as a sub-standard blocker. Ever since his first game it’s been obvious he sees himself as a pass catcher rather than someone who clears a path for a running back. However, with new systems and coaches come new opportunities to reinvent one’s self. Rodriguez’ system depends on the ability of his tight ends to be more than just receivers. Further, with the deterioration of Michigan’s offensive line, from 4 returning starters to just 1, Butler’s ability to block will be critical to Michigan’s ability to not just air the ball out, but move it on the ground. As I’m sure Rodriguez has made clear to Butler, the better he blocks, the more passes will come his way. And in a system with unproven and, as Brian calls them, electron sized receivers, a 6’5" tight end stands to be the critical passing outlet to a pair of baby faced signal callers.
Last year, despite having the majority of passes go to Manningham and Arrington, Butler still grabbed 20 catches, 2 TDs and posted a gaudy 12.3 yards per catch. If his head is screwed on right, look for his catches to double and his TDs to triple. I can’t see him maintaining a 12.3 ypc average, which was aided significantly by a 65 yard pitch and catch in 2007, but a 9-10 ypc isn’t out of the question given his size and speed.
On talent alone, Butler is the best tight end in the Big Ten this season. Whether he can turn that talent into a dedicated performance on the field is the magic question. But, man, his potential and his role in this offense make him one of our 15 Michigan Football Players to get Excited About in 2008.