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Posts Tagged ‘AJ Williams’

Predicting Michigan 2015: The tight ends

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015


PredictingMichigan-TightEnds
Jake Butt

Among its many other offensive deficiencies last season, Michigan’s offense lacked a consistent tight end threat in the passing game. Devin Funchess’ move to wide receiver left the tight end corps scrambling for a playmaker, and only one tight end finished the season with more than 100 receiving yards.

Enter, Jim Harbaugh. In his takeover of Ann Arbor, the new Michigan head coach brings with him a deep history of success at the tight end position. Zach Ertz, Coby Fleener, and Ryan Hewitt are just a few of the tight ends coached and recruited by Harbaugh at Stanford who ended up in the NFL. Ertz and Fleener each caught more than 50 passes for over 700 yards in the league last season, a trend Harbaugh surely had a hand in.

But does Harbaugh have the talent in place to turn Michigan’s tight ends into weapons in 2015? Here’s a look at the current and incoming members that make up the unit.

Returning starter

Jake Butt is the most likely Michigan tight end to enjoy a legitimate breakout season in 2015. Butt, one of the clear victims of the team’s quarterback struggles, has yet to put a complete season together, scoring twice and gaining more than 200 yards in each of his first two years.

The 6-foot-6 Pickerington, Ohio native has sure hands and solid athleticism and will catch the ball if it gets to him. He caught less than three passes per game last season, but figures to play a larger role in Harbaugh’s offensive game plan. Butt would especially benefit from Jake Rudock winning the starting job, as the fifth-year senior prefers shorter, safer passes to throwing balls downfield.

Despite catching just 41 passes in his first two seasons, Butt is a clear playmaker. He averaged 10 yards per catch last season and was named a member of the watch list for the Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end, last month.

The biggest uncertainty surrounding Butt is whether he can recapture the explosiveness he showed as a freshman before he tore his ACL, an injury that hampered him in 2014. If he can be the elite athlete fans saw flashes of two seasons ago, he will thrive in a featured role in Harbaugh’s offense.

Projected Stats – Butt
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
45 525 11.7 7 40.4
Career Stats
2014 21 211 10.0 29 2 21.1
2013 20 235 11.8 37 2 18.1
Totals 41 446 10.9 37 4 19.4

Role players

Michigan also returns a pair of tight ends who have seen significant playing time during their careers, but pose little threat in the passing attack. A.J. Williams, who scored a touchdown on his only catch in 2013, caught just four passes for 33 yards last season despite playing in all 12 games and starting four of them. Williams is a block-first tight end who was used to support an inexperienced offensive line last season. He’ll likely play a similar role as a senior, albeit losing some snaps to the pass-catching tight ends.

Khalid Hill is another blocking specialist who started three games for Brady Hoke in his final season with the Wolverines. Hill caught four passes for 37 yards and spent most of his time run and pass blocking on next to the line. Hill, like Williams, will likely see the field a bit less in 2015.

Projected Stats – Williams
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
5 40 8.0 0 3.1
Career Stats
2014 4 33 8.3 12 0 2.8
2013 1 2 2.0 2 1 0.2
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 5 35 7.0 12 1 1.0
Projected Stats – Hill
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
3 25 8.3 0 1.9
Career Stats
2014 4 37 9.3 12 0 6.2
2013 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 4 37 9.3 12 0 6.2

Reinforcements

As explosive as Butt can be in the passing game, Michigan needs more than one target and a few blockers to turn the tight end position into a strength. Luckily for Harbaugh, there are two young tight ends ready to play a role for the Maize and Blue.

Though he never saw the field as a freshman, former three-star recruit Ian Bunting was a dangerous downfield threat at Hinsdale Central High School in the Chicago suburbs, catching 27 passes for 583 yards and four touchdowns. The 6-foot-7 Bunting offers a huge target with reliable hands who can go up and win a jump ball over defenders.

Harbaugh and his staff brought another huge tight end to Michigan on National Signing Day: Tyrone Wheatley Jr. Wheatley, whose father was hired to coach running backs at U of M, stands at 6-foot-6 and over 250 pounds, but that doesn’t hold him back as an athlete. He played defensive end and tight end in high school and will be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses at Michigan.

He won’t blow defenders away with his speed and quickness, but he’s athletic enough to beat defenders to the ball and can break tackles after the catch.

With Harbaugh coaching him up, Wheatley has a chance to become the big, powerful home run threat the Michigan offense desperately needs.

Projected Stats – Bunting
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
20 230 11.5 1 17.7
Career Stats
Redshirted in 2014
Projected Stats – Wheatley
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
30 450 15.0 3 34.6

Meet the rest

Chase Winovich — sophomore, 6’3″, 230 from Jefferson Hills, Pa. (Thomas Jefferson), no career stats
Michael Jocz — senior, 6’4″, 231 from Novi, Mich. (Novi), no career stats

Predicting Michigan: The tight ends

Monday, June 23rd, 2014


Predicting Michigan-TightEnds

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan

Michigan football made a few announcements this offseason that gutted the tight end depth for offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. The team’s top option throughout much of the last two seasons was Devin Funchess, who will be moved permanently to wide receiver for his junior season. Transitioning Funchess was much easier after the emergence of freshman Jake Butt, but a torn ACL sidelined the young star and left the Wolverines without their top two options at tight end, at least for the first few games of the season.

Brady Hoke opted against moving Funchess back to tight end, and will instead choose from a number of veteran options that have made smaller impacts during their Michigan careers.

The Starters

With the offense under construction after the hiring of Nussmeier, it remains to be seen what type of role the tight ends will play in 2014. During the spring game, the majority of Michigan’s sets featured one tight end, often junior A.J. Williams.

Williams played a very limited role in his sophomore campaign, catching just one pass for a two-yard touchdown in the loss at Iowa. The 6’6″ tight end started six games, but was rarely featured as an integral part of the offense. The junior will be asked to play a much bigger role in 2014, as he holds the No. 1 tight end spot on the depth chart and received the most reps during the spring game.

Fellow junior Keith Heitzman lineup up with Williams on the first team during double tight end sets at the spring game, revealing Nussmeier’s willingness to at least experiment with more than one tight end on the field.

Heitzman has played 23 games for the Wolverines in his career, but all of them have come on the defensive line. The 271-pound junior separated himself from the rest of the pack as the No. 2 tight end, but will likely be featured as a blocker and less of a receiving threat.

Butt, meanwhile, is expected to be out until Big Ten play, but when he returns, will slide back into a starting role. The 6’6″, 250-pound sophomore impressed as a true freshman in 2013, catching 20 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns. That’s five more catches and one more yard than Funchess had in his freshman campaign. Butt saved his best performance of the season for the matchup against his hometown Buckeyes, recording five catches for 85 yards and a score. Butt won’t match Funchess’ 2013 numbers, but will play a major role in the offense once he returns.

Projected Stats – Williams
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
9 100 11.1 1 7.7
Career Stats
2013 1 2 2.0 2 1 0.2
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 1 2 2.0 2 1 0.2
Projected Stats – Butt
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
21 250 11.9 4 27.8
Career Stats
2013 20 235 11.8 37 2 18.1
Totals 20 235 11.8 37 2 18.1
Projected Stats – Heitzman
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
16 200 12.5 2 15.4
Career Stats
2013 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
2011 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A

Veteran Depth

Tight end remains one of the thinnest positions on the Michigan roster leading into the 2014 season, but quality recruits over the past two seasons have provided the Wolverines with some talented options. The struggle for Nussmeier in 2014 will be finding a tight end that can both protect the quarterback and hurt defenses in the passing game.

Redshirt freshman Khalid Hill figures to be an option if Williams and Heitzman struggle, as the former consensus three-star offers Michigan more of a receiving weapon. Hill is smaller than the other tight ends, but makes up for it with quickness and essential receiving skills like strong hands and great route running. Hill is more likely to be a difference-maker in the future, but a strong spring could put him on the radar for 2014.

Projected Stats – Hill
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
13 150 11.5 1 11.5
Career Stats
2013 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A

Newcomers

Michigan welcomed one key tight end prospect in the 2014 recruiting class in Ian Bunting. Bunting is a tall, but athletic tight end that should evolve into Michigan’s top receiving threat from his position. The freshman played wide receiver throughout much of his high school career, which molded him into the offensive threat that Hoke recruited.

Bunting figures to compete for playing time as a true freshman, since the Wolverines could really use a receiving threat from the tight end position. His versatility can only improve his chances to crack the lineup, as Nussmeier owns the option to line him up in the slot or out wide.

If a largely unproven wide receiver unit struggles during the non-conference season, expect the coaching staff to consider awarding Bunting more time at tight end to give the offense more options. The freshman fits the mold of Funchess and Butt as a pseudo-receiver at tight end.

Projected Stats – Bunting
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
10 150 15.0 1 11.5

Frozen: Iowa 24 – Michigan 21

Sunday, November 24th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

Following last week’s triple-overtime victory at Northwestern, Michigan had a chance to continue to build momentum heading into the big showdown next week with unbeaten rival Ohio State. Instead, with wind chills hovering around zero in Iowa City, Michigan’s offense remained frozen and Iowa handed the Wolverines their fourth loss of the season, 24-21.

The game started on a high note when, on Iowa’s first play of the game, Jake Ryan got pressure on quarterback Jake Rudock and Brennen Beyer picked it off at the Iowa 7-yard line. He carried it into the end zone to put Michigan ahead 7-0.

Final Stats
Michigan Iowa
Score 21 24
Record 7-4 (3-4) 7-4 (4-3)
Total Yards 158 407
Net Rushing Yards 60 168
Net Passing Yards 98 239
First Downs 10 21
Turnovers 1 4
Penalties-Yards 2-20 3-31
Punts-Yards 10-354 4-150
Time of Possession 26:35 33:25
Third Down Conversions 4-of-14 4-of-15
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 1-of-3
Sacks By-Yards 1-4 1-14
Field Goals 0-for-0 1-for-2
PATs 3-for-3 3-for-3
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-2 3-of-5
Full Box Score

On their next possession, Iowa drove down the field, but kicker Mike Meyer missed a 36-yard field goal. Michigan wasn’t able to do anything with its possession and Matt Wile’s punt into the stiff wind went just 19 yards. Iowa took over at Michigan’s 45, and punched it in seven plays later on a 5-yard pass to tight end CJ Fiedorowicz.

Michigan went three-and-out, and once again, Wile’s punt into the wind gave Iowa possession on Michigan’s side of the field, this time at the 42. But Iowa couldn’t do anything with it and failed to convert a 4th-and-4.

At the beginning of the second quarter Michigan punted again, this time with the wind, and Iowa was forced to start at its own three. On 3rd-and-8, Blake Countess picked off Rudock at the Iowa 30, and Michigan took advantage of the short field. Six straight runs put Michigan at the Hawkeye two, and on 2nd-and-goal, Devin Gardner connected with tight end AJ Williams to put Michigan back ahead at 14-7.

Late in the second quarter, Iowa punter Connor Kornbrath found out what Wile had to deal with in the first. His punt went just 27 yards into the wind and Michigan took possession at the Iowa 47. Ten plays later, Gardner completed a 9-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Gallon to give Michigan 21-7 halftime lead.

Despite a 14-point lead, Michigan’s offense had just 113 total yards in the first half, taking advantage of a defensive touchdown and good field position.

The second half, however, was a different story. On the third play of the third quarter, Rudock found Tevaun Smith across the middle, who raced 55 yards for a touchdown. Michigan’s four offensive possessions in the quarter went three plays, five yards; three plays, zero yards; three plays, six yards; four plays, minus-one yard.

It was only a matter of time before Iowa would capitalize, and they did so on their first possession of the fourth quarter, driving 60 yards on nine plays, culminating with a 9-yard Mark Weisman touchdown run to tie the game at 21.

The interception forced by Jake Ryan was the highlight of the game for Michigan (MGoBlue.com)

Michigan’s ensuing possession lost four yards in three plays and the Wolverines punted it back to Iowa. Nine plays later, Meyer hit a 34-yard field goal to give the Hawkeyes their first lead of the game, 24-21.

Needing some late-game magic like a week ago, Michigan mounted its first positive drive of the second half. On 3rd-and-8, Gardner completed a pass to Jeremy Jackson for 18 yards to the 50. After a loss of one, Fitzgerald Toussaint took a screen pass 13 yards to the Iowa 38. Toussaint lost a yards on the next play, and on 2nd-and-11, Gardner rushed to his left for eight yards, which would have set up a short third down already in field goal range. But Iowa linebacker Anthony Hitchens stripped the ball from Gardner’s right hand and recovered it along the sideline.

Iowa needed just to run out the clock to seal the win. Michigan’s defense held the Hawkeyes on first and second down, but on 3rd-and-10, Rudock completed a 12-yard pass to Fiedorowicz to end the game.

Michigan finished the game with just 158 total yards of offense – fewer than it had in the losses to Michigan State and Nebraska – and just 10 first downs. Gardner completed 13-of-28 passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Derrick Green rushed for 27 yards on 11 carries, while Toussaint carried the ball just six times for 12 yards. Gallon caught six passes for 47 yards and Devin Funchess, who dropped three or four catchable passes, was held to just one reception for two yards.

The only positive to come out of the loss – and it’s a hollow one at that – is that Michigan set the all-time NCAA record for consecutive games without being shut out, breaking a tie with BYU. It was Michigan’s 362nd straight game putting points on the board, dating back to a 1984 game at Iowa.

Michigan now heads home to close out the regular season with Ohio State, who has won 23 straight games and has already locked up a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State. The Buckeyes, ranked third in the BCS standings, still have hopes of a national championship if either Alabama or Florida State stumbles. Michigan will surely be a heavy underdog, but stranger things have happened.

Final Look: Minnesota

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

Michigan finally played a pretty good game that resulted in a convincing win just the way it should. Now, it has a chance to go on the road and prove it’s better than it played in the two games before the bye week. But before we get there, let’s take one last look back at the big plays, numbers, stats, and observations from the 42-13 win over Minnesota.

Three big moments

1. Jibreel Black forces a fumble

Many were wondering how Michigan would respond coming out of the bye week that followed back-to-back poor performances against Akron and UConn. Just like in the first four games, Michigan kicked off to open the game, which meant the defense got a chance to set the tone. The kickoff went ominously out of bounds, giving Minnesota the ball at the 35.

On Minnesota’s first play quarterback Mitch Leidner rushed for two yards. On the second Leidner completed a pass to tight end Maxx Williams for two more. On 3rd-and-6, Leidner dropped back to pass and then pulled it down to run a draw up the middle. At first it looked like he had a hole, but Jibreel Black came around and hit him at the 35. He got his right hand on the ball, knocking it loose and James Ross recovered, giving Michigan great field position. The Wolverines punched it in six plays later to take an early 7-0 lead.

2. Funchess diving catch

Blake Countess leads the nation in interceptions and INT return yards (MGoBlue.com)

While Michigan got off to a quick start thanks to Black’s forced fumble, Minnesota did a good job of keeping Michigan’s offense off the field the rest of the first half. The ensuing Gopher possession lasted 9:44 and Michigan only got to run 17 plays the rest of the half. With a 14-7 halftime lead, Michigan needed a strong second half to put the Gophers away.

On the first possession, Michigan looked to establish the run. Fitzgerald Toussaint took the first three carries for 14, five, and eight yards, respectively, and then Derrick Green ran for nine. At the Minnesota 44, Gardner connected with Jehu Chesson for a 22-yard gain to put Michigan in field goal position. On first down from the 22, Toussaint lost a yard. On second, Gardner threw an incomplete pass setting up a critical third down. On 3rd-and-11, Gardner dropped back to pass and fired a bullet across the field, towards the pylon at the front right corner of the end zone. Devin Funchess had to come back to get it and dove from the goal line, picking the ball off the turf at the 2-yard line. The play was reviewed and remained a catch and Green punched it in on the next play to give Michigan a 14-point lead. Without the great catch, Michigan would have faced a 40-yard field goal to go ahead 17-7, leaving Minnesota still in the ball game.

3. Countess takes it home

Michigan held a 35-13 lead after Gardner ran it in from two yards out with 2:36 to play. Minnesota got the ball back looking to possibly score once more, but Blake Countess had other plans. On 1st-and-10 from the Michigan 36, Leidner threw to the left side of the field and Countess stepped in front of the receiver, picking it off at the 28. He then raced 72 yards untouched for a touchdown to bring the final score to 42-13. It was his fourth interception of the season, tying for the most nationally, and the 72 return yards combined with his previous return yards to give him the most interception return yards in the country.

The numbers game

73-24-3: Michigan’s all-time record against Minnesota

86-27: Michigan’s all-time record in homecoming games

0: The number of turnovers by Devin Gardner, marking the first turnover-free game of his career to date

9: The number of consecutive games that Gardner has recorded a rushing touchdown

21: The number of Michigan players to eclipse 2,000 career rushing yards. Fitz Toussaint became the 21st with his 78-yard game

0: The number of passes Michigan threw in the first quarter

72: The yards of Blake Countess’ interception return for touchdown, the sixth-longest in Michigan history

Drive chart
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
MN

*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics

Three observations

1. Starting strong

For the fifth consecutive game, Michigan started on defense, and for the fifth consecutive game the defense didn’t allow a point on the first possession. Opponents are averaging just 3.8 plays, 11.4 yards, and 1:35 per opening possession. What’s more is that Michigan’s offense has scored on four of the five ensuing possessions, including the blocked punt returned for touchdown following Central Michigan’s first possession. The only game that Michigan didn’t score right after holding the opponent to start the game was UConn when Devin Gardner threw an interception. Three of the four scores have been touchdowns. The other, against Akron, was a field goal. So that’s a combined 24-point lead that Michigan has taken right out of the bat despite not getting the ball to start the game.

2. Funchess out wide

Devin Funchess' move to the outside provides an instant upgrade to the receiving corps (MGoBlue.com)

Devin Funchess played much of the game lined up as a wide receiver and had the best game of his young career with seven catches for 151 yards and a touchdown. His sheer athleticism and height make him an instant mismatch for opposing defensive backs, so it’s a logical move since Michigan hasn’t found a true downfield threat this season. Funchess provides that. The return of AJ Williams and the development of freshman Jake Butt has allowed Brady Hoke and Al Borges to make this move.

Funchess has struggled with his blocking, but excels at catching the ball. Part of his decline in production as the season went on last season was because opponents knew that whenever he was in the game it was a pass. Oftentimes Michigan used that as a decoy, but it resulted in seven receptions in the final nine games after eight in the first four. Now, with the move to the outside, he can do what he does best and the offense won’t sacrifice anything to get him the ball.

3. Offensive line shuffle

Chris Bryant stepped into the starting lineup, pushing Graham Glasgow to center and Jack Miller out. The numbers don’t show any improvement – Michigan rushed for just 3.3 yards per carry – but it seemed to passed the eye test. There seemed to be a noticeable improvement. Michigan did have four negative rushes, a sack, and a fumbled snap that resulted in a loss of five, but the four negative rushes were only one-yard losses and three of them were by Green.

More importantly, Michigan had just two short drives. Look at the drive chart above and then go back and look at the drive charts from the Akron and UConn games. Those two are littered with short maize lines. The Minnesota game had just two in which Michigan didn’t pick up a first down. That’s an improvement.

In addition, the coaches moved Taylor Lewan around the line on certain plays and ran all but two runs behind him. Whether that’s something they will continue to do the rest of the season or this was just a chance to test it out remains to be seen, but he’s the start of the team and it’s always a good bet to run behind him.

Minnesota’s defense certainly wasn’t a stern test, so the real test of how much this shake-up improves the line is still to come. Penn State will be much better defensively than Minnesota was, so before we go grading the offensive line shuffle let’s wait at least another week.