If you’ve watched a Michigan football game this season, odds are you’ve seen wide receiver A.J. Henning — whether as a pass catcher, a rusher, or a special teams returner.
While other guys over the years have been used across positions, it has largely been unintentional, usually in an attempt to fill holes on the depth chart. Not so for Henning, as both he and head coach Jim Harbaugh have expressed desire to see the junior from Illinois play a role akin to that of Deebo Samuel for the San Francisco 49ers.
It’s a role Henning relishes, and he hammered home that point Tuesday evening at Schembechler Hall.
“I embrace it a lot,” Henning said. “You saw this past game just playing a little bit of running back, being all over the place. Just versatility and matchups, that’s what it comes down to, being in the best position to be successful on the offensive side of the ball.
“I like to say ‘expect the unexpected,’ so you never know with the creative minds we have in the offensive coaching room, you never know what could be at stake. But I’m ready for whatever — whatever spot they wanna throw me at, I’m ready to do it all.”
The position Henning holds is an interesting one, and it’s even more intriguing by the versatility both Blake Corum and J.J McCarthy bring to the table. What’s undeniable in Henning’s toolbox, however, are his abilities on special teams. After earning third-team All-Big Ten honors last season as a return man, he has staked a claim for higher recognition from the jump this year, particularly after scoring Michigan’s first punt return for a touchdown since 2018.
It’s an evolution Henning takes pride in — and one he’s still undergoing.
“After last season, you know I really went back and looked at the film and just looked at each return,” Henning said. “Balls I feel like I could’ve fielded, some balls that I fielded that I dropped, just honing in on the little details — alignment, assignment, the little keys like keeping your body square and your elbows in tight.
“I just really honed in on all those details, and with repetition you always get better so just keep repping, keep bringing a punter along, Tommy Doman or Brad Robbins. Just getting with those guys after hours and getting those reps in.”
Whether on offense or special teams, Henning has become invaluable to the Wolverines game plan. As that plan evolves, so too will his role.