It’s early in the season, the Michigan Wolverines are 2-0, and there’s a position unit with a chip on its shoulder — the tight ends.
AJ Barner says he and the rest of Michigan’s tight ends “get plenty of love from the coaches”, but he also feels outsiders may be sleeping on them.
“Right now, yeah, we are underrated,” Barner said.
Michigan’s tight ends haven’t contributed in the passing game in a major way through two weeks, but with Big Ten Conference play inching closer, every facet of Michigan’s offense will be unleashed.
Barner has one reception for 12 yards, TE1 Colston Loveland has six receptions for 63 yards and Max Bredeson has one snag for 14 yards. Other names will get in the mix this season such as Marlin Klein and Matthew Hibner.
Barner, a transfer from Indiana, was a captain for Indiana last season and had career highs with 28 receptions for 199 yards and three touchdowns. Barner said he’s ready to make a “big impact” and believes he and the rest of Michigan’s tight end room are all ready for a breakout season while acknowledging they “all have a lot to prove”.
“We have flown under the radar a little bit. As the season continues to go on, we’re gonna make plays when the opportunities come, and we’re gonna continue to block extremely hard,” Barner said. “Sometimes that doesn’t show up in the stat book, but when you turn on the tape you’re gonna see that.”
Michigan tight ends coach Grant Newsome said on Wednesday that the tight end group didn’t live up to their standard from a blocking perspective Week 1. The tight ends were challenged by the coaches and their efforts against UNLV Newsome categorized as one of their better blocking games as a tight end room in the last 18 months.
When asked how flying under the radar makes Barner feel, he was honest and candid.
“A little bit disrespected, to be honest,” AJ Barner said. “I’m just gonna continue to do my job and I know that it’ll all work out.”
Last month offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore called Barner “outstanding”, “impressive” and a “giant human being” at 6-foot-6. Moore’s comments in August indicate that Barner will have his time to shine as a pass catcher in Michigan’s offense.
“In the pass game, he’s so big. He’s so fluid and so agile,” Moore said. “He gives you another threat in the passing game that you can’t say, ‘Yeah, he’s in the game, you’re gonna run the ball.’ He’s been extremely valuable. He’s gonna allow very multiple things with him. Very excited about that.”
Tight ends are an integral part of Michigan’s entire offense. They are used heavily as run and pass blockers, but like Barner said, the opportunities will come in the passing game. It’s up to the tight ends to make the most of those chances. It doesn’t hurt to have a quarterback as good as J.J. McCarthy either.