When Jim Harbaugh became the Michigan head football coach, one thing was as given as any.. the tight end position would be a focal point once again for Michigan football. During the Rich Rodriguez era the scheme of what Michigan football was bread on became lost, under Brady Hoke the tight ends just never really developed to be all around solid players. Those days are gone, and the days of the Schembechler mold of tight end are back.
Harbaugh’s scheme counts on two tight ends to be on the field for a high percentage of snaps, and their blocking prowess is equally important as to how good of pass catchers they are. The evidence was in the year Jake Butt had. Butt was a Big Ten First Team selection, after a year in which he was dangerous catching the football while also proving to be a ferocious blocker when called upon.
The 2016 group of tight ends is a bit different than ‘15, and we have the breakdown for you:
#88 | Senior | 6-6, 250 pounds | Pickerington, Ohio
2015 stats- 51 Receptions | 654 Yards | 3 Touchdowns
Butt had a strong 2015 and was a perfect fit for Harbaugh’s scheme. Jake proved to be a reliable pass catcher at any point on the field, providing Jake Rudock with a third down converting, red zone target machine.
Not only does Butt possess above average speed, hands, and route running for the position, he’s also very strong. A tough and gritty tight end is needed in a smash-mouth footbal style offense, and Butt has shown he’s willing to be a physical blocker in the run and pass game when called upon to do so.
Butt is on the John Mackey Award watch list, which goes to the best tight end in the country. Also, this week he was named to the CBS Preseason All American First Team. The expectations are higher for Butt in 2016. Will his production meet what’s come to be expected? If he has a good year, Butt will be selected in round one of the 2017 NFL Draft.
#89 | Junior | 6-7, 252 pounds | Hinsdale, Illinois
2015 stats- 5 Receptions | 72 Yards
Bunting’s 2015 production could leave some feeling skeptical as to how much he can produce in a 2 TE heavy scheme. For those with concerns, Jake Butt’s praise of Bunting could change worries into optimism quite fast. “He’s going to be a very great player. He’s going to help our team a lot cause he is a tight end that can do both jobs. He can run, catch, block and he has the size... Maybe 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-7, 250 or 250-plus, and he works hard and he’s a smart football player. He has everything you need to do to be successful.” Butt said.
Tight Ends coach Jay Harbaugh mentioned earlier this month that Bunting will be the No. 2 tight end, but other players will receive playing time behind Butt as well.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr.
#8 | Redshirt Freshman | 6-6, 276 pounds | Buffalo, New York
Wheatley Jr. is the son of former Michigan running back Tyrone Wheatley, who’s also Michigan’s running backs coach. Wheatley Jr. will be trying to make a name for himself in his own right. A highly touted four star prospect, Tyrone was the No. 13 tight end nationally and first in New York coming out of high school. He should see his fair share of snaps on the field behind Bunting, and maybe more if he makes the most of them. In spring practice Wheatley’s athleticism was the talk of Michigan’s practice at Ford Field. Wheatley caught a one handed pass thirty yards down the field and took it all the way to the end- zone for a 75 yard scamper, out running various linebackers and defenders in the secondary.
Last week Jay Harbaugh said Wheatley has improved since last year. “He’s grown tremendously, the way he takes care of his body, his training, the way he approaches the mental aspect of the game, that’s exciting. The nature of the position asks a lot of my players mentally and sometimes it’s not the easiest thing to grasp right away. He’s light years ahead of where he was.”
#83 | Redshirt Freshman | 6-7, 244 pounds | Albuquerque, New Mexico
The picture above is when Zach Gentry (#10) was a quarterback in 2015. With too many options ahead of Gentry on the depth chart, he moves to tight end.
"He's a very, very big target," Jay Harbaugh said. "That's very helpful in developing a comfort-level with a quarterback as a receiver. And he can run. He has good feet. He's smart. He has good hands. All those things. We saw glimpses of things that were exciting and made it obvious that he'd have potential at tight end."
As a four star recruit at quarterback, Gentry could have transferred to another school, but he believes in what the staff has chosen to be his true position.
Freshman options Sean McKeon (early enrollee), Devin Asiasi and Nick Eubanks are also hoping to contribute in 2016. Asiasi was a four star recruit out of Concord, California, who was the third ranked tight end in the 2016 class. Eubanks was ranked the 9th best TE in the 2016 class and was a four star recruit as well.