In my haste to preview Michigan’s offensive tackles, I skipped over the tight ends — something the Wolverine offense seemed to do a lot as the 2009 season wore on (rimshot!). Will the tight ends be similarly overlooked in 2010? Let’s take a look:
Returning Contributors: Kevin Koger (Jr.), Brandon Moore (RS So.), Martell Webb (Sr.)
Incoming Freshmen: None
Key Departures: None
Returning Player Stats:
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The Projected Starter: Junior Kevin Koger will once again be Michigan’s starting tight end, and he will have to bounce back from a disappointing second half of 2009 if he wants to have the breakout year most people expected out of him as a sophomore. Of Koger’s 16 receptions last season, 12 came in the first six games, and his issues dropping the ball may have had a lot to do with the tight end position getting phased out of the offense late in the year. At his best, Koger is an all-conference talent who can block, catch, and run well for a player of his size (6-4, 255 pounds), and if he plays up to his potential (he was Rivals.com’s No. 4 tight end in the class of 2008) he could be both a big-play threat and a solid safety valve for the Wolverine quarterbacks. To reach that potential, however, Koger must prove he can consistently catch the ball — if he can do that, he should be a valuable weapon for the 2010 offense.
The Competition: Senior Martell Webb — a former standout prep basketball player — will likely be Koger’s primary backup. Webb is a good athlete who has also had some issues holding onto the ball, but he is a solid second option at tight end and could see his role expand in his final season. At 6-4, 257 pounds, Webb is another big target, and the former four-star recruit has all the skills necessary to be a reliable backup and red-zone threat.
Redshirt sophomore Brandon Moore (four-star, No. 8 tight end to Rivals.com) came to Ann Arbor with nearly as much recruiting hype as Koger, but so far in his career he has been buried behind his 2007 classmate and Webb on the depth chart. Moore was mostly used as a split-out receiver in high school, so the adjustment to playing on the line may have played a part in his lack of playing time, but Moore will have to seriously step up his game if he wants to see much playing time this year. At 6-5, 250 pounds, Moore could be a great receiving threat, but so far his potential hasn’t translated to significant reps — he’ll likely reprise his role as the third tight end until 2011, when Webb’s eligibility will be up.
Outlook: The role of the tight end in Michigan’s offense may be determined by the play of Michigan’s outside and slot receivers early in the season — if the team is able to put up points while running four- and five-receiver sets, Koger and his backups might be relegated to spot duty, much like they were in the latter half of 2009. If Koger’s hands have improved, however, he could be too talented to keep off the field, and Rich Rodriguez’s offense has several plays designed to take advantage of Koger’s versatility (see last year’s Notre Dame game for proof). Expect the tight ends’ production to fall somewhere between last year’s numbers and last year’s expectations as Michigan spreads the ball around to a bevy of talented receivers.
For every position preview, click here or hit the “2010 Position Previews” tag at the bottom of the post.