UM mailbag: How to make do without Tarik Black

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Eddie McDoom might be among the receivers trying to pick up the slack after the injury to freshman Tarik Black.

The mail this week was inundated with questions about the offense. Absolutely nothing regarding the defense or special teams. Imagine that. But one touchdown in 10 red-zone trips touches a nerve, and the loss of freshman receiver Tarik Black is also a hot topic, so let’s talk offense.

Question: Who do you think steps up after the injury to Tarik Black. Nico Collins or Oliver Martin?  -- @HBWolverinesfan

Question: Any chance Tarik can come back this year? And how are the young QBs behind Speight improving? -- @Haskdog

Question: Which WR do you stepping up to fill the gap left by Tarik Black? -- @rwschumacher

Question: So coach said either Collins or Martin would play this week because of Black injury, which one do you think it will be? Any chance both? -- @RajLakra

Answer: I feel sort of like a cable company and think it’s better to bundle questions on the same topic. Anyway, looks like Black had surgery Wednesday, but Jim Harbaugh didn’t give a time frame for how long he will be out, and it’s hard to speculate how long it takes a player to recover from a broken bone on the outside of the foot. When I asked if he could return this season, Harbaugh said he didn’t know, and he doesn’t. Hard to imagine this could be a quick recovery. Gotta believe Donovan Peoples-Jones will play a much larger role, as will Grant Perry, and we will see more of Eddie McDoom. Now, about the Oliver Martin or Nico Collins talk — I listened to the radio interview with Harbaugh live, went back and listened to the tape multiple times and I never once heard him say either will play. He said Kekoa Crawford, Nate Schoenle and Perry will also be playing bigger roles. This is such a deep position group, so see how they perform before deciding whether to play Collins or Martin.

Question: What are the chances Pep takes an increased role in play-calling? -- @DRMighty

Question: Is Pep Hamilton the man for the job? Play calling seems highly suspect. -- @jwoodhou

Answer: Interesting the two takes on this question. The play-calling at Michigan is a collaborative process among offensive coordinator Tim Drevno, pass-game coordinator Pep Hamilton and Harbaugh. As they game plan, the three offer their input in their specific “areas” and they continue to share that input through the course of a game. Harbaugh undoubtedly has final say.

But I would agree with you, John, that in the red zone the play-calling has hardly been imaginative. I think there still is a feeling-out process with those calling the plays understanding just what kind of offense they have. And, frankly, based on Harbaugh’s demeanor these last two news conferences, I’d say he’s not thrilled with what he’s seen. After all, the offense has his stamp on it.

Question: The status of Ty Isaac? -- @BmanBk

Answer: Harbaugh said Monday he is OK. I saw Isaac around the building a couple of times and he didn’t look like he was struggling with any type of injury, but of course it's one thing to walk around the football building and quite another to play.

Question: Any word of the offense holding back over the last 2 games to “surprise” B1G teams, similar to what’s been said about the defense? -- @markl2021

Question: Does the offense break out of the funk this weekend? How many offensive TDs? -- @CarManCVG

Wilton Speight and Jim Harbaugh

Question: Who is replacing Tarik Black? Will Michigan open up offensive playbook more? Are Speight struggles due to freshman WR running bad routes? -- @zybowskipjr

Answer: Going with the bundle again. Mark, no way has this offense been holding back. If they have been, there’s no way Harbaugh would have been as miffed as he’s been the last couple of weeks in news conferences. I’ve gotta believe the offense will start finding its footing and will break out of the funk. How? The offense has to get more consistency from the run game, especially in critical spots, and that goes for the right side of the offensive line — first-time starters there, but they have to start producing better. Wilton Speight has struggled at times with the freshmen receivers, but I don’t think the timing is that off. That will come. I think Speight has anticipated the pocket breaking down before it even does and that has made his footwork more of an issue on throws.

Question: Were Speight’s shortcomings disguised by his quality WRs and TEs last year? -- @jonathoncasalou

Question: Is it Speight or the offense? What’s your take? -- @RdotPaige

Question: Percent chance on Speight finishing game if we go down by 3 TDs or more? -- @michmike69

Answer: Some really interesting questions. Let’s start from the bottom. If that’s the scenario I think it’s possible Harbaugh does what he did in the opener and sits Speight for a few series and bring in John O’Korn. I don’t see him pulling Speight for good. And I don’t think the problem is just Speight and never have. There are 10 other guys out there and they all have been off the same page at different times. That goes for all the position groups. Could Speight be better? Sure, but if I had to point to one, I’d say the right side of the offensive line. It’s just not “there” yet. Speight was definitely made better by the guys around him in Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson and Jake Butt, but remember, it took a good three games before he got timing down with them. Jake Butt was a constant, and I think that’s why so many this year are wondering where the tight ends are. And ... that goes back to the offensive line and an extra blocker.

Question: How about differences in running back room w/Harbaugh vs. Wheatley? -- @PeteBMLC

Answer: Pete, there are definitely differences considering Wheatley played the position and Jay Harbaugh did not, but the players seem to enjoy the process with him. There’s a give and take. There’s a free exchange of ideas. Harbaugh approached his new job wanting to learn as much as possible. He leaned on coaches he knows who coach running backs but also watched plenty of film of NFL running backs to pick on techniques he shares with the players.

Question: You would expect a Harbaugh-led offense to take on some of his persona, but they seem to lack in both confidence and moxie. Why is that? -- @deshetlers

Answer: That’s an interesting point, because you sure see the defensive players mirroring Don Brown in a lot of ways. I’m not sure it’s a lack of confidence. It feels like a lack of sync and that takes time, although no one can wait. But hasn’t Harbaugh been different on the sideline this year? Less demonstrative? He’s not coddling young players, but it seems he wants them to learn in the heat of the game and perhaps a fiery approach isn’t what he thinks this team needs. Speight can be cocky like Harbaugh was. If he gets the offense on the rails, that will show.

Question: Is Michigan concerned about Purdue? Maybe overconfident? -- @seveans1956

Answer: So transparent, Steve, you Boilermaker. Ha. Sure, they’re concerned. Don Brown is concerned with the gimmicks Jeff Brohm runs and of course they’re concerned with a team that’s got some serious confidence entering a Homecoming game that will be a sellout. Nope, no overconfidence among the Wolverines.

Question: Where is McDoom and the TEs specifically Wheatley and Bunting?

Answer: You’ll see more of Eddie McDoom. Wheatley had some minor injury and was dressed for the game last week, and Bunting was working through something in the spring and Harbaugh had said midway through camp was finally back. So I think he was slowed a bit in the preseason.