The Michigan tight end group isn’t talked about as much as the receivers, but they should be.
Not only will they play a pivotal role in Jim Harbaugh’s passing attack, they will be called upon to be key contributors in run blocking as well.
They’re asked to be linemen and receivers, a tall task at any level.
The good news for Michigan is the TE unit may be a strong one in 2018
Even so, there are questions that need to be answered about the tight end unit. Here are five questions.
How deep is this tight end group?
Zach Gentry and Sean McKeon look like 1A and 1B, with both making the Mackey Award Watch List. But Nick Eubanks will push them for snaps, as he showed promise last season versus Florida before a season ending injury.
Then there are the young guns, 4-star freshman Mustapha Muhammad could get himself some action and could be a great red-zone option. Luke Schoonmaker is a bit of a project but 6-6 tight end can really fly down the field in a hurry and could present matchup problems at the position.
This unit has a chance to do special things and could really shine through and through in 2018. The talent is there, we’ll see if the production is as well.
Did the unit get stronger this off-season?
If you look at Zach Gentry, the answer appears to be yes. Gentry said he gained over fourteen pounds of muscle, feeling stronger and faster. Gentry also went to say that tight ends are blocking better and moving the d-line back more than they were last year.
A stronger tight end group is very important for Michigan, as their TE’s are used in the run game extensively. Much focus is put on Michigan’s offensive line when it comes to run game success, but the tight ends have a say in this too.
How will Shea Patterson gel with the TE’s?
There were games last season where the tight ends weren’t utilized a whole bunch. Part of that was due to game-planning, and the other part was due to Michigan quarterbacks simply not looking their way.
It remains to be seen how good quarterback Shea Patterson will be at Michigan, but if he is productive, his chemistry with the tight ends will play a big role.
A good quarterback is a good quarterback, if you can play at a high level chemistry with receiving options will occur naturally. I’m not a betting man, but I do believe Patterson will develop a solid rapport with this tight end unit.
Who will lead the TE’s in receptions?
This is a tough call.
Zach Gentry had just 17 receptions in 2017, but racked up 303 yards.
Sean McKeon had 31 receptions for 301 yards.
Part of the answer hinges on my last question, whether Patterson gels with one more than the other. McKeon is more of a short yardage possession tight end, which would favor him receiving more receptions, even if Gentry has a better year overall.
Gentry will likely be a higher risk, higher reward tight end in the sense he will be asked to run deeper patterns and stretch the field. The type of routes Gentry will be running more often than not will be somewhat challenging throws for Patterson to make, but maybe he’ll pepper Gentry with targets nonetheless.
I’ll still give McKeon the slight edge here.
Will one of these guys produce like Jake Butt did?
I have no answer to this question, but I believe Zach Gentry shows some serious potential to not only be solid this season, but to be a good tight end in the NFL as well.
Jake Butt was probably the best tight end in Michigan history, his last two seasons featured 96 receptions and 1,200 yards receiving. HUGE numbers for a tight end in college. A savvy route runner and sure handed more often than not, Butt sets the bar for the type of player a Michigan Wolverine should be on and off the field.
With that said, Gentry and McKeon should be up for the challenge. It would be incredibly helpful if one of them went off and hauled in over 40 receptions this season.