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Predicting Michigan: The wide receivers

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Predicting Michigan-Receivers

Devin Funchess, Jake ButtWhen wide receiver Jeremy Gallon walked off the field in Arizona after Michigan’s loss to Kansas State, the Wolverines lost 42.6 percent of their receiving yards for the season and the top playmaker on the team.

Michigan’s receiving corps was a one-man wrecking crew in 2013, with Gallon averaging 15.5 yards per catch and scoring nine times. His departure leaves room for a deep group of young wide outs to grow with the rest of the Wolverine offense.

Previously: Quarterbacks, running backs

The Starters

Canteen showed plenty of promise in his first spring

Canteen showed plenty of promise in his first spring

Devin Funchess represents Michigan’s top returning receiver after transitioning from tight end to wide out during the 2013 season. Funchess was moved to receiver officially after playing a tight end-wide receiver hybrid position that highlighted the tall sophomore’s downfield skills.

As a junior, Funchess will be asked to show more consistency in the receiving game. Though he was one of the more explosive options for Devin Gardner in 2013, catching 49 passes for 748 yards, he struggled with concentration lapses that turned into dropped passes. Funchess holds all the tools to be a dominant receiver in the Big Ten, as his size and athleticism make him a mismatch for virtually every defender in the conference.

Funchess is more valuable to the Michigan offense as a wide receiver because of a 6’5″, 230 pound frame that makes him a huge red zone target. The former tight end has done his best work in the end zone for the Wolverines, catching 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons in Ann Arbor.

Michigan entered spring camp with a second wide receiver position wide open until a true freshman charged out of the pack to grab the spot. Freddy Canteen dazzled the coaching staff the day he stepped on campus and has been the talk of the team ever since. The lightning-fast receiver turned heads with his quick feet and athleticism, leaving no doubt that he will line up opposite Funchess for the Wolverines on August 30.

Canteen and Funchess give Michigan a receiving duo with a remarkably high ceiling. Funchess can only benefit from an offseason exclusively dedicated to becoming a wide receiver, and Canteen’s quick rise up the depth chart offers him the opportunity to blossom with first-team reps.

Projected Stats – Funchess
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
65 900 13.8 8 69.2
Career Stats
2013 49 748 15.3 59 6 57.5
2012 15 234 15.6 30 5 18.0
Totals 64 982 15.3 59 11 37.8
Projected Stats – Canteen
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
35 600 17.1 5 46.2

Veteran Depth

Darboh was in line to start last fall before a foot injury sidelined him for the season (

Darboh was in line to start last fall before a foot injury sidelined him for the season (

Depth at wide receiver is one of the biggest questions facing the Michigan offense as it prepares for the 2014 season. Jehu Chesson is the only returning wide receiver that recorded over 100 yards in 2013, doing so on just 15 receptions.

Chesson was the forgotten man for much of his redshirt freshman season, playing in all 13 games but catching three or fewer passes in each one of them. Despite his inconsistency last season, the sophomore will be asked to provide stability to an otherwise young group of wide receivers in 2014.

Chesson’s struggles can be largely attributed to the circumstances that thrust him into the regular rotation last season. Amara Darboh was well on his way to earning a starting position last fall before suffering a foot injury in August and missing the entire season. The explosive sophomore has been rehabbing his injury throughout the past eight months and appears ready to make a return to a unit that sorely needs him.

Darboh sat out the spring game, but announced that he feels 100 percent and hopes to be a full participant in fall camp. If he regains his previous form, Darboh will be a huge asset to the offense, as his hands were the surest of the young receivers in camp last offseason. His pure catching ability offers Michigan a Junior Hemmingway-type player that can beat defenders to the ball.

If Doug Nussmeier decided to utilize a slot receiver, then junior Dennis Norfleet is the most likely candidate to earn that role. Michigan regularly features the speedy Norfleet as a kick returner because of his big-play potential; but the junior’s quickness could make him a valuable weapon in the passing game, in which he caught six passes for 46 yards last season.

Projected Stats – Chesson
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
25 350 14.0 3 26.9
Career Stats
2013 15 221 14.7 58 1 17.0
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 15 221 14.7 58 1 17.0
Projected Stats – Darboh
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
18 200 11.1 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
Totals 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Projected Stats – Norfleet
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
12 100 8.3 0 7.7
Career Stats
2013 6 46 7.7 15 0 3.5
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 6 46 7.7 15 0 3.5


Brady Hoke added a major piece to the receiving corps when Drake Harris committed to the Wolverines out of Grand Rapids. The consensus four-star turned heads during his junior season in high school, catching 91 passes for 2,016 yards and 23 touchdowns. Harris was considered one of the top recruits in his class before missing his entire senior season with a hamstring injury.

Harris sat alongside Darboh in the spring game, continuing a quiet offseason for the talented receiver. At 6’4″, Harris could be a valuable target during his freshman campaign, but health concerns will continue to surround the youngster until he steps foot on the field.

Michigan’s roster also features a host of young receivers hoping to crack the lineup this fall. Da’Mario Jones was blocked by Chesson last season after Darboh’s injury figured to bring him into the mix. Former three-star recruit Jaron Dukes is eligible in 2014 after redshirting his freshman season and could earn playing time with a strong spring.

Projected Stats – Harris
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
22 300 13.6 2 23.1

Burning questions as Michigan football opens spring practice

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Morris-Gardner(Detroit News)

It has been just 59 days since Michigan’s season wrapped up with an underwhelming loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The 2014 season seems eons away as basketball season is about to head into conference tournaments and then the Big Dance. But while it may be hard to turn our attention back to football, Brady Hoke’s squad is set to return to the gridiron today to kick off spring practice.

Last season was as disappointing as any in recent memory because no one expected it to go the way it did. Most preseason expectations ranged from 9-4 to 11-2, and after the Wolverines topped Notre Dame in Under the Lights II, there was even some talk of national championship possibilities. Of course, Michigan followed up the high of that game with a thud against Akron, needing a last-second goal line stand to hold off what may have been a bigger upset than when Appalachian State stunned the Wolverines in 2007. And the season unraveled from there.

Now, needing to get the bad taste of 2013 out of its system, Michigan has a 2014 season opener to look forward to against, well, Appalachian State. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the biggest questions the Wolverines face heading into spring ball.

How much will Gardner be able to do this spring with a new offensive system to learn? (

How much will Gardner be able to do this spring with a new offensive system to learn? (

How healthy is Devin Gardner?

Brady Hoke turned some heads earlier this month when he seemed to imply that the starting quarterback role was up for grabs this fall.

“I think (the starting quarterback for next season) is an unknown,” Hoke said. “We were 7-6 (last season). And we’ve got a lot of young guys (on the team). We’ve got a lot of competition.”

In a technical sense it’s true. Gardner finished the 2013 season in a walking boot and couldn’t even play in the bowl game. Until he’s fully healthy he can’t be 100 percent presumed the starter. What if the injury is even worse than thought? What if it continues to linger throughout the offseason?

But assuming Gardner is able to fully heal there’s no question he’s the starter on Aug. 30. The main question is how much will he be able to do in spring ball?

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will be the third Gardner has had in his career, and although he didn’t start under Calvin McGee, it will still be the third offensive system he has had to learn. Nussmeier has done wonders for the quarterbacks he has coached during his quick rise up the ranks, from Jeff Smoker to Drew Stanton to Tom Brandstater to Jake Locker to Keith Price to A.J. McCarron.

Sophomore-to-be Shane Morris is likely to benefit the most from Nussmeier’s quarterback expertise since he has three more years to work with him, but Gardner could very well take a significant leap in 2014 given his talent and experience. In 2003, Nussmeier helped Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker set a school record 3,395 passing yards after struggling as a junior. He then helped Drew Stanton improve from 1,601 yards in his first season to 3,077 the next year. Most recently, he helped Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron improve on a near flawless 2012 season.

It will be important for Gardner to participate in spring drills to continue the work that he has built upon the past four years, but most importantly to work with Nussmeier and learn his offense. Gardner can still do that if not at full speed, but it’s obviously better to learn at full speed than not.

Who will catch passes?

Jeremy Gallon graduated and took 42.6 percent of last season’s receiving yards with him. Add the production lost from fellow seniors Drew Dileo, Jeremy Jackson, Joe Reynolds, and Fitzgearld Toussaint — who finished as the team’s fourth-leading pass catcher — and Michigan has just 41.3 percent of its production returning.

Jehu Chesson is Michigan's leading returning true receiver with just 15 receptions (

Jehu Chesson is Michigan’s leading returning true receiver with just 15 receptions (

To make matters worse, tight end Jake Butt tore his ACL in offseason workouts, and while he’s likely to return at some point during the season, he may not be 100 percent. Devin Funchess was almost certain to make the official move to the outside prior to Butt’s injury, but with no other established pass catching tight end, Michigan may not be afforded to move him permanently.

The leading returning true receiver is Jehu Chesson, who caught just 15 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown. No other true wide receiver that caught a pass returns. The x-factor will be Chesson’s classmate, Amara Darboh, who was in line to start last season before a foot injury in fall camp sidelined him for the season. At 6’2″ and 212 pounds, Darboh has the size to be a formidable outside receiver, but will his foot be healthy enough to fully participate in spring ball? He impressed last spring and fall before sustaining the injury. Can he regain that form?

The unknowns are the cadre of true and redshirt freshmen that have been brought in in the past two recruiting classes. Jaron Dukes, Csont’e York, and Da’Mario Jones all redshirted in 2013 and Freddy Canteen, Drake Harris, and Maurice Ways are incoming. Of the latter group, Canteen and Harris enrolled early and will have a chance to show what they can do while getting their feet wet this spring.

All five have good height but will need to add some bulk to their thin frames, Canteen (6’3″, 170) and Harris (6’4″, 180) especially. Chesson played last season at 6’3″, 196 and seemed thin at times. York was listed at 6’3″, 180 last season, while Jones was 6’2″, 192 and Dukes 6’4″, 190, but by the time the spring roster is released, they will have surely added some muscle with a full season under their belts.

There is plenty of young talent and great size to go around, but who steps up and garners that hype that Darboh did a year ago before his injury will be one of the biggest aspects to watch this spring.

How will the line shape up?

The biggest disappointment in 2013 was undoubtedly the poor performance of the offensive line. While senior left tackle Taylor Lewan earned the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award for the second straight year and right tackle Michael Schofield was solid, the interior was a sieve all season. Several different combinations were used throughout the season and the coaching staff even went as far as to try odd tackle over formations to utilize Lewan’s strengths in order to hide other weaknesses, but nothing seemed to make the offense any more efficient.

With the bookends gone to graduation and a new offensive coordinator the development of the line will be interesting to watch. Much was said throughout last season about Brady Hoke’s supposed inability to develop offensive line talent, but let’s not forget that his first full class was redshirt freshmen in 2013. Most linemen, even the most highly rated ones, don’t gain starting roles on the line until two or three years into their careers at minimum.

Graham Glasgow and Erik Magnuson struggled in 2013 but gained experience that will help them in 2014 (

Graham Glasgow and Erik Magnuson struggled in 2013 but gained experience that will help them in 2014 (

Highly-ranked offensive line hauls are great, but we shouldn’t have begun to sniff the payoffs until this upcoming season at the earliest. In a normal situation without the attrition from previous classes decimating the line depth, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson, Blake Bars, and Ben Braden would have simply played reserve roles in 2013, heading into the spring of their redshirt sophomore season looking to work their way into the starting lineup. Instead, Kalis and Magnuson, along with true freshman Kyle Bosch, were forced into action before they were clearly ready and it showed. While that hurt the offense in 2013 it should pay dividends in 2014 as they can build upon the experience they gained.

One thing that is for certain is that, aside from injuries, everybody will get a chance to compete throughout spring practice for a major role this fall. Magnuson and Chris Bryant — both of whom started games last season — will be held out due to injury, but aside from that, who emerges as the starters is anyone’s guess.

Hoke hinted that they would start the spring with Logan Tuley-Tillman, David Dawson, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis, and Ben Braden as the starting five from left to right, and the competition would go from there.

“We’ll obviously start with a five, but all that is going to be competitive, and with a young team, to some degree, even though they played a little bit, you’ve got to have it competitive,” Hoke said.

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier won’t bring huge changes, but he will simplify the schemes the line uses in the running game. Last year, Hoke and then-offensive coordinator Al Borges tried just about everything they could think of to find something that worked. This year, Nussmeier will start with a basic inside zone and build from there. Whichever five emerge from the April 5 spring game as the starters will carry confidence and cohesiveness into fall camp.

How will the defensive coaching shakeups impact the defense?

Nussmeier replacing Borges was the only coaching staff change this offseason, but last week Hoke announced that the roles of several defensive coaches would be shaken up in an effort to create a more aggressive defense and streamline the staff. Most notably, Hoke won’t be coaching any specific position groups himself. He spent the past three seasons coaching the defensive line. Stepping back will allow him to take a larger role and perhaps devote more time to areas that may have been overlooked in the past.

Greg Mattison switches from coaching the defensive line to linebackers this season (

Greg Mattison switches from coaching the defensive line to linebackers this season (

Mark Smith, who has coached the linebackers the past few seasons, will take over the defensive line, while defensive coordinator Greg Mattison moves to the linebackers. Mattison coached the Baltimore Ravens linebackers — and good ones like Ray Lewis — and said on National Signing Day that he has been looking for bigger linebackers. Smith, meanwhile, spent 15 of his 32 years as a defensive line coach, but hasn’t specifically coached the position since 2002 at Indiana State.

Curt Mallory will be taking on more of a specialized role with just the safeties after coaching the entire secondary the past three seasons, while Roy Manning will take over the defensive backs. Manning was hired prior to last season to coach the outside linebackers.

“Everyone on the staff and the kids are really excited about these changes,” Hoke said. “Greg and I met and felt this was the best for everyone, including him and his ability to coach a position group and run a defense from the middle. When you look at Mark’s experience on the defensive line, then being able to split the secondary, where you have five positions and 20-plus guys, and with the way offense and passing has changed in college football, I think it balances our staff on that side of the ball.”

Michigan’s defense has gone downhill in each of the three seasons under the current staff. In year one, Hoke and Mattison transformed what was a sieve under Rich Rodriguez into the nation’s 17th-best total defense and sixth-best scoring defense. But those numbers have fallen the past two seasons from 13th and 19th in 2012 to 41st and 66th last season. While the offense had its share of well-publicized struggles, the defense was virtually unable to stop anyone over the second half of the season.

The coaching staff shakeup sounds like a sign of desperation at first glance, a coach trying one last ditch set of moves in order to save his job. That may be partially true, but it’s certainly worth a shot. Moving Mattison to coach the middle of the defense makes a lot of sense as that’s where he coached in Baltimore and the linebackers run the defense. Hoke stepping back from coaching a position group also seems like the right move, and Smith taking over a group with which he has considerable — if not recent — experience could invigorate the line. Finally, splitting the secondary among two coaches also make sense since there are so many bodies among the cornerbacks and safeties.

In a perfect world, the moves will create excitement among the players — at the very least shake up any complacency or entitlement that may exist. Even though Nussmeier is the only new addition to the staff, the whole defense will be playing for a new position coach and thus fighting even harder to make a statement and earn playing time. Should it have gotten to that point? No. But it can only be a good thing throughout the spring.

Predicting Michigan: The wide receivers

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Over the past couple of weeks we have started a series in which we break down each position on the roster and predict the production from the key players. First the quarterbacks, then the offensive line, and then the running backs. Today, we take a look at the wide receiver position.

Looking Forward: A New System

Michigan’s offense is in the process of converting back to a more traditional pro-style brand of football. As we all know, the departure of Denard Robinson, one of the most unique players to ever hit the college stage, turned the offense into something that didn’t really fit into any of the specific offensive categories that coaches teach today. The big play ability and readiness to scramble made for an exciting, yet inconsistent offensive show every week.

As far as the wide receivers were concerned, they played out of their element with Denard at quarterback. Rich Rodriguez recruited small, fast receivers to run his spread offense, but when Robinson took the field, he often preferred to throw jump balls down the field. While this strategy worked out for players like Junior Hemingway, it is unrealistic to expect receivers like the 5’8″ Jeremy Gallon to win jump ball battles routinely.

That’s where Devin Gardner comes in. At the end of last season, Gallon and Drew Dileo looked more comfortable in the offense and became major contributors with a more capable passer behind the center. Michigan receivers have been pretty solid the last few seasons, despite the lack of big names that fans have grown used to like Mario Manningham, Braylon Edwards and Jason Avant.

Seniors Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo provide a solid foundation for the receiving corps

Roy Roundtree had a very up-and-down career, but in the end it was defined by big moments, in which he always seemed to shine. Fans will remember his catch in the first-ever Big House night game against Notre Dame in 2011 and the late jump ball against Northwestern that saved the day in 2012. Roundtree has graduated, however, and left a very young group of receivers to take his place.

Seniors: Familiar Names

Michigan has three seniors that figure to see significant playing time at wide receiver this season. Two names that all fans are familiar with are Dileo and Gallon. Dileo has turned into the do-it-all man for Coach Brady Hoke, holding for kicks, playing special teams and contributing as a slot receiver on offense. Dileo has steady hands and has shown the ability to get open by running his routes effectively. While there is no denying his size has made people second-guess him, he has found his role on the Michigan team and Hoke seems to trust him, even in big moments.

Gallon will likely be the most-targeted receiver on the team this season, if the end of 2012 is any indication. Gardner and Gallon had instant success together after the converted receiver took over the starting quarterback job. Gallon is difficult to defend because of the multiple ways he can hurt a defense. Michigan can send the speedy wide out deep, because he has the talent to outrun defenders and break a big gain, but he can also catch the ball on a screen and make defenders miss in the open field. The terrific touch on Gardner’s passes also makes Gallon a potential threat in the middle of the field. There is no denying Gallon was recruited to run in the spread offense, but the way he has adapted to the changes and become one of the top playmakers in the Big Ten is exciting for the Wolverines.

Senior Jeremy Jackson also saw playing time at receiver in 2012, playing in all 13 games but only catching four passes. Jackson is unlike his fellow seniors, listed at 6’3″. The Ann Arbor native has played in 36 games in his Michigan career, and is looking to make his first real impact during his final season. With a passing game that will probably be more efficient than it has been since Jackson arrived on campus, his numbers will get better, but he will still be a lesser option behind guys like Gallon.

The final senior, Joe Reynolds, had just three catches and played in 11 games last season. Reynolds is listed at 6’1″, and will likely play the reserve role again this season with the other seniors and young talented recruits taking up the majority of the playing time.

Projected Stats – Gallon
Receptions Yards YPC Long TD YPG
65 1,200 18.5 8 100.0
Career Stats
2012 49 829 16.9 71 4 63.8
2011 31 453 14.6 64 3 34.8
2010 4 49 12.3 20 1 4.1
Totals 84 1,331 15.8 71 8 35.0
Projected Stats – Dileo
Receptions Yards YPC Long TD YPG
35 500 14.3 4 41.6
Career Stats
2012 20 331 16.6 66 2 25.5
2011 9 121 13.4 28 2 9.3
2010 1 3 3.0 3 0 0.5
Projected Stats – Jackson
Receptions Yards YPC Long TD YPG
12 130 10.8 1 10.8
Career Stats
2012 4 31 7.8 9 0 2.4
2011 3 36 12.0 19 0 2.8
2010 4 55 13.8 22 0 5.5
Totals 11 122 11.1 22 0 3.4

Other Returners: The Unknowns

Amara Darboh is one half of the second-year receiving duo looking to make a mark

Michigan returns five other receivers that were on the roster last season along with the four 2013 seniors. Walk-on Bo Dever, redshirt sophomore Jonathan Keizer and redshirt freshman Brad Anlauf have not seen time at wide receiver for Michigan and will likely be featured mainly on special teams in 2013 due to the many other options at the disposal of Al Borges. Keizer and Anlauf are both tall wide receivers, so they may get a chance to play if they show some playmaking ability during preseason practice.

Jehu Chesson, a 2012 recruit who took a redshirt last season, has a chance to see playing time in a significant role this year. Chesson is 6’3″ and was ranked as a three-star during recruiting. His big body makes him dangerous over the middle, where he can go up and get the ball because he is lanky and athletic. Something that sets this youngster apart is his straight-line speed. He has impressed his teammates in practice with his ability to get down the field quickly and really open things up for the offense by stretching the field. Coaches have gotten more out of this receiver than they expected in practice so far, so he could be an important player in the battle for third receiver in late August.

The player that has really created some buzz out of this young group is sophomore Amara Darboh. Darboh came into Michigan as a four-star recruit, but saw very little time in 2012 and didn’t record a catch. He had his coming-out party during the spring game this offseason. Fans at the game didn’t have to wait long for some excitement, as Gardner launched a 30-yard completion down the sideline to the big receiver on the very first play. The 6’2″ Iowa native has apparently become a favorite of Al Borges with his ability to pull in every ball and use his big body to get open. Darboh has really showed few flaws in his game so far, making catches deep down the field and having no trouble getting open early by shaking defenders off the line. The sophomore seems to be a perfect complement to deep threat Jeremy Gallon on the offense, and has a great chance to win a starting job because of that. Look for Darboh to come out of the shadows and have a nice year, with Gardner taking advantage of his versatility.

Projected Stats – Darboh
Receptions Yards YPC TD YPG
20 400 20.0 4 33.3
Projected Stats – Chesson
Receptions Yards YPC TD YPG
10 90 9.0 3 7.5

Recruits: A Steady Group

Michigan’s recruiting class was full of big names and nationally-renowned players, but the wide receivers that joined the Maize and Blue were under the radar. Though the players are good additions to the roster, they will have to prove themselves to see the field on offense this season. Jaron Dukes is a big receiver and at 6’4″ has been labeled mostly as a red zone specialist. He can go up and get a jump ball in the corner and is more than willing to block, which is his specialty at this point in his career.

Csont’e York and Da’Mario Jones both join the Wolverines as 6’2″ three-star recruits. They fit the mold of the direction of the new offense, as steady receivers that catch the balls that are thrown to them. If they see the field this year, it will be because Gardner can drop the ball into their hands and the coaching staff knows they will be strong with it. Both may need work on their route-running skills, but expect the strong coaching staff to turn these receivers into contributors in the future. For 2013, however, the three freshman will likely see most of their playing time on special teams, if any.

Wrapping Up

Besides Gallon, Michigan’s receiving core is largely unproven coming into 2013. A fan base that is used to having several dominant receivers on the field at a time may have to be patient with this group. While it doesn’t figure to be one of the strengths of the team, the seniors should be dependable and Darboh could be a break-out candidate. If he is able to contribute at the level Borges seems to expect from him, the field will become much longer for Gardner and the speedy senior receivers will reap the benefits underneath.

The shift from the spread offense has given the offense an advantage of versatility at wide receiver. Michigan has a unique mix of speed and size targets for Gardner, and if Borges is able to use them to complement each other, an unheralded group of receivers could quickly become very dangerous in the Big Ten.

National Signing Day: visualizing Michigan’s 2013 recruiting class

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Stay tuned in the coming days as we profile each of the 27 members of Michigan’s 2013 class.