The fourth edition of our Michigan football spring preview offers a look at a position that figures to emerge in prominence under the supervision of Jim Harbaugh and Tim Drevno. But many positions fall under that category, you say. Well, we’re talking about tight ends.
Brady Hoke and his staff didn’t neglect the tight end position, but it hardly thrived. Then again, you would struggle to find an example of offensive success anywhere during Hoke’s time in Ann Arbor. Jake Butt only played in 10 games last season, but he was easily the biggest producer, pulling in 21 catches for 211 yards and two touchdowns. Butt’s 2014 season began with rehabbing an ACL injury, but he showed the capability of being a major difference maker within an offense that struggled to move the ball through the air.
Khalid Hill didn’t necessarily look like the next greatest thing for Michigan, but he was probably the Wolverines’ No. 2 option behind Butt. Hill suffered an ACL tear after the Rutgers game, however, and was sidelined for the remainder of the season. He’s had a successful surgery since, but Michigan’s top two tight ends from a year ago are trying to work through ACL injuries.
• Tyrone Wheatley Jr. (four-star recruit, son of running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley)
• Jack Dunaway (joined 2015 class as preferred walk-on)
Projected Depth Chart
|1st Team||Jake Butt||Jr.||6-foot-6, 248 lbs.|
|2nd Team||A.J. Williams||Sr.||6-foot-6, 285 lbs.|
|Backup||Khalid Hill||RS So.||6-foot-2, 252 lbs.|
|Backup||Ian Bunting||RS Fr.||6-foot-7, 243 lbs.|
|Backup||Michael Jocz||RS Jr.||6-foot-4, 231 lbs.|
|Backup||Tyrone Whealtey Jr.||Fr.||6-foot-6, 260 lbs.|
|Backup||Jack Dunaway||Fr.||6-foot-3, 212 lbs.|
There’s really no doubt Jake Butt enters spring ball as the position’s best player. His injury history is a bit of a concern, but on what level? ACL injuries are all too common in today’s game, but with that comes advancement in treatment. Butt played fearlessly during his stints on the field last season, and he seems to be the perfect candidate for an offense that will run a lot of play-action and try to get big in the red zone.
The second-team spot is really a tossup between Khalid Hill and A.J. Williams. Both caught only four passes last season. Williams has been a non-factor his entire career, but he enters his senior season in good position to make an impact. His size at 6-foot-6, 285 pounds is a natural advantage. Hill will one day be an impact player on this offense, but this seems a little too early. Unlike Butt, Hill is coming off a more recent ACL tear, and even though he should be ready to roll come this fall, there’s no telling quite yet what kind of lingering issues he may have.
Two true freshmen should bring up the rear on the depth chart. Tyrone Wheatley Jr. was a last-minute addition on National Signing Day, while Jack Dunaway has been committed as a preferred walk-on since last season. Wheatley’s size and diverse set of skills could get him involved during his true freshman season, but there likely won’t be many flares coming from a first-year player this year.
Player To Watch: Ian Bunting
Ian Bunting is a monster at 6-foot-7, 243 pounds. Although thin for his height—Williams is an inch shorter but 40 pounds heaver—Bunting displays a little of what we saw initially in former Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess. If he can develop his ball skills and become a competent blocker on the line, Harbaugh will have to find a way to get him involved, most likely in the red zone. Bunting redshirted his first season, so there’s a lot we don’t know about the young tight end, but if you’re looking for a player who could emerge out of nowhere for this offense, Bunting may be your guy.
Postion Grade: B
Tyler Fenwick is the managing editor of The Big House Report. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.