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.
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|
|Projected Stats – Dileo|
|Projected Stats – Jackson|
Other Returners: The Unknowns
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|
|Projected Stats – Chesson|
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.
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.