Devin Funchess says of unproven players in the receiver corps: 'They're hungry because of the competition.' (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)
Ann Arbor — To say Michigan’s passing game was heavily dependent on Jeremy Gallon last season may be an understatement.
The leading receiver, with 1,373 of Michigan’s 3,221 yards, Gallon had nearly as many yards as the next four pass catchers — Devin Funchess (748 yards), tight end Jake Butt (235 yards), Jehu Chesson (221 yards) and running back Fitz Toussaint (203 yards) — combined.
But, with Gallon leaving for the NFL (Patriots), quarterback Devin Gardner will have to find another primary target. He’ll have Funchess, Butt and Chesson back, and adds freshman speedster Freddy Canteen to the mix.
“Jeremy Gallon was big-time for us, but I feel like we have a lot more depth at the receiver position,” Gardner said. “A lot of different guys are stepping up and playing well. I don’t think it’s just one guy who’s just the guy — it’s like a collaboration of guys.”
Gardner also will have help from two unproven commodities — 6-foot-4 freshman Drake Harris and redshirt sophomore Amara Darboh, who missed last season with a foot injury.
“They’re hungry because of the competition,” Funchess said. “With Darboh back and Freddy Canteen coming in, they see the talent is there so they don’t want to get left behind so they’re competing along with us.”
The group also has to contend with a new scheme from offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who is in his first season after leaving Alabama.
And so far, Nussmeier likes what he’s seen from the receivers.
“I really like their work ethic and I think we’ve got the ability to be explosive,” he said. “We talked about the ability to create explosive plays, and those guys have shown the ability and worked well against our defense.”
Darboh, in particular, will be a welcome addition, although he still hasn’t had a catch in his career.
Still, coach Brady Hoke is expecting some positives from him.
“He gives us another guy as a receiver who has some game experience,” Hoke said. “When you look at his genetics and size, he’s able to challenge a defense vertically,” and he has strength on the line of scrimmage. “He’s shown us in spring that he has that kind of ability.”
But with some uncertainty about the freshmen and questions about who the go-to guy might be, Nussmeier is taking things slowly, not trying to overload them.
“I really believe it’s important you don’t ask them to learn the whole game plan. Just focus on a portion of the game plan that they’re really going to excel at; that way, they can play fast,” Nussmeier said.
“Otherwise, there are too many coverage variables when you start talking about playing at this level and too many different things that happen to them in a game that force them to play slower if they don’t have a really good understanding of what you’re asking them to do.”