clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Preseason positional grades: Tight end depth as strong as it’s ever been under Jim Harbaugh

Colston Loveland is set up for a big season.

Vrbo Fiesta Bowl - Michigan v TCU Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Last week, I gave the Michigan Wolverines’ wide receiver room a C-grade. The spark notes of the piece were there is such limited experience from top to bottom that it could be what costs the Wolverines a National Championship, especially if an elite receiver doesn’t come out of it.

A caveat to that is Michigan’s tight ends have the potential to be very good once again in 2023, even after the losses of Erick All and Luke Schoonmaker. Will it be enough for the Wolverines to move closer to that 50-50 run-pass balance? Let’s break it down.

Tight Ends - Grade: B+

  • Starters: Colston Loveland, A.J. Barner
  • Backups: Max Bredeson, Matthew Hibner, Marlin Klein
  • New Faces: Zack Marshall, Deakon Tonielli

The Michigan coaching staff is really excited about Colston Loveland. The sophomore tight end burst onto the scene late in the year with touchdowns against Ohio State and Purdue, and four receptions for 36 yards in the College Football Playoff loss to TCU.

Loveland skyrocketed through a tight end room full of veteran talent to become the No. 2 tight end. He saw significant playing time in just about every two tight end formation and even started five games.

In 2023, Loveland is poised to be the starter, and maybe even the best pass-catcher on the squad.

“He’s on the right track,” said tight ends coach Grant Newsome earlier this month on the In The Trenches podcast. “And the cool thing for him is, I don’t think he realizes quite yet just how good he is and how good he can be. And that’s great for us, because he works every day like he isn’t one of the best tight ends in the country. He works every day like he isn’t one of the most talented guys we’ve ever had come through here.”

Newsome also recalled Jake Butt telling him after a practice that Loveland was going to be better than he was. If that’s the case, J.J. McCarthy and the Wolverines are in really good shape heading into the year.

Filling Loveland’s spot as the No. 2 tight end should be Indiana graduate transfer A.J. Barner. The two-time captain for the Hoosiers brings exactly what the Wolverines needed in the room — veteran leadership.

“He’s just a guy who is always asking what more he can do, how he can improve,” said Newsome. “And he’s meshed extremely well with the team and the room.”

The Ohio native had just short of 200 receiving yards in 2022, but did find the end zone three times. I suspect a slight boost in receiving yards will be in his near future at Michigan.

Behind the two starters are three more guys who could be seeing the field often this fall. Newsome said he has “five guys that can trot out who are high level tight ends right now.”

The other three? Redshirt junior Matthew Hibner, redshirt sophomore Max Bredeson and redshirt freshman Marlin Klein. Hibner, the eldest, was a key special teams contributor last season but also lined up at tight end eight times. If he can make big plays like he did in the spring game before being tripped up by the turf monster on a 51-yard slant play.

Bredeson is a legacy name at Michigan, and he saw significant playing time at tight end last season. The high school quarterback turned tight end has made improvements every year playing in an H-back kind of role. He has a great understanding of the offense and should see quite a bit of playing time again this season.

Then, there is a somewhat new face in Marlin Klein. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound redshirt freshman is a former four-star recruit and appeared in two games for the Wolverines last season. Newsome said he will “have to play football for us this year,” meaning he’s had a strong offseason.

This team has a surprising amount of experience and depth at tight end, and there is a lot of reason for optimism. It’s a great sign it is this early and the tight ends coach is singing this many praises about five different guys. Expect the Wolverines to lean on these guys early and often in the passing game this season.