Speed-in-space is not necessarily dead, but clearly Michigan fans need to adjust their expectations of what the offense is going to look like under Josh Gattis. Whether the issues stem from personnel or coaching is irrelevant; this scheme is not going to just magically appear after two frustrating seasons.
However, there are still plenty of playmakers that have made their way up to Ann Arbor, and now is the time for them to be unleashed. One of these weapons is AJ Henning, who is raring to go after a modest debut. With some departures at the wide receiver position, the sophomore will get a chance to play a much bigger role in 2021.
The story so far
A borderline top-100 recruit, Henning’s talent is very clear. He is extremely fast with tons of athleticism, making him anything from a home-run threat to an end around ball carrier. When Gattis came to Michigan with his offensive philosophy, this is the type of player fans envisioned.
Unfortunately, Henning had the exact type of season that a freshman receiver on a struggling offense would expect to have. He totaled just six catches over five games for 59 yards and no scores, and his three carries did not amount to much either. There is just not a lot to take away from his 2020.
However, the opportunity should be much greater as a sophomore. Gone are Nico Collins, Giles Jackson, and even Chris Evans, all players who were ahead of him in the pecking order. While Cristian Dixon is plenty talented, Xavier Worthy will not be coming to Ann Arbor, leaving space for players like Henning and Blake Corum to show off their abilities.
Everything Henning showed as a recruit is still there, and while he was not much of a factor during his first season, his potential has not diminished. Rarely do freshman receivers come in and dominate, but with a year under his belt and the possibilities open in front of him, he might be ready to turn into something special.
Outlook moving forward
Ronnie Bell and Cornelius Johnson should see plenty of targets this season, but look for Henning to work his way into the game plan. Whether he starts seeing more jet sweeps and end arounds or serves as that true deep ball fiend, his skill set allows him to be one of the more versatile players on the roster.
Henning’s biggest (lone?) highlight last season is ironically not even a great demonstration of what makes him great. Instead of sprinting by the Penn State defender, he has to instead adjust to the ball and secure the difficult catch.
Aside from it being a fun highlight from his freshman year, I like the clip because it shows that Henning is not just a gadget player. He absolutely has elite speed, but he can also be a reliable outside receiver and possesses some decent hands as well. While the hope is that better quarterback play will allow him to win with speed the majority of the time, he is not a one-dimensional player.
Expectations are going to be much higher in 2021. The receiver room is lighter, the quarterbacks cannot be worse than last season, and he is no longer a freshman still learning the ropes. While the Wolverines do not need Henning to be their top-overall target, the former four-star should see his production take a big step forward this year.