Michigan's Oliver Martin talks about the competition at receiver. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — As freshman receiver Oliver Martin nursed an AC shoulder injury last fall, he devoted his redshirt season to studying the playbook while getting acclimated to the college game.
Martin understood the learning curve with the offense was significant and although he wanted to play right away, he now believes he has benefited from that time spent on learning the game at a deeper level.
“Last year was a big learning experience for me,” Martin said Saturday after the Wolverines’ practice. Michigan canceled its spring game because of weather but the team had a scrimmage. “Obviously, I was redshirted and there was a big learning curve with offense. The main thing I needed to focus on was learning the entire playbook last year and be able to process it quickly. After going through a full year it’s so much easier. Just knowing the personnel groups, the formations, the shifts and all that, being able to process it quicker.”
“Coming in I guess I didn’t realize the offense would be so hard to grasp, that there would be so many concepts to learn. After I redshirted, I made it a point to get it down so I could process it quickly. The coaches have done their best to simplify it so you don’t have to think so much and I think they’ve done a good job of that. It takes a little bit of time and memorization and then after a while you get it.”
Michigan has a strong corps of receivers that coach Jim Harbaugh this week described as “really coming on fast” this spring. There’s also a new position coach in Jim McElwain.
“I like him a lot,” Martin said. “He’s very relatable, very personable. I like him a lot. He breaks down the offense so it’s simple for all the players. I like relating with him.”
While McElwain is new to the staff, he had to see that one of the issues for the receivers last season was making contested catches.
Martin said that’s an area the receivers have improved. Former Michigan receiver Roy Roundtree is now also on staff as a graduate assistant working with receivers.
“The new coaches we brought in are really emphasizing releases and getting off of jams cleaner,” Martin said. “I think they’ve broken it down from a technical standpoint really well and we’re able to do the releases that they’re equipping us with pretty easily.”
Michigan has talented receivers in Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black — who had such a quick start to his freshman season last fall before breaking his foot — as well as Eddie McDoom and Kekoa Crawford. Harbaugh said this week that Nico Collins has improved his blocking and is making tough catches, while Martin is “asserting himself on the scene, as well.”
While each receiver has ability that distinguishes himself, Martin said they’re all similarly gifted.
“It’s hard to see the differences,” he said. “We’re all pretty well-rounded. I would say one of my strengths is releases but the other guys are good at releases, too.”
He said playing against Michigan’s corners has helped prepare all of them.
“Going against them every day improves the progress of a receiver,” he said. “Try new releases, see how they play you in routes. That’s a huge plus for our receivers getting to work against them every day.”
Generally speaking, Martin said, the offense, which experienced staff turnover and the additions of McElwain, Ed Warinner as offensive line coach and Sherrone Moore coaching tight ends, is improving.
“We’re executing a little bit better,” Martin said. “The playbook’s been simplified a little bit, but we’re still installing every day. Not a huge difference, but execution and production might be a little bit better.”
There initially was a learning curve considering the quarterback group, with the addition of Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson, along with Brandon Peters, Dylan McCaffrey and early enrollee Joe Milton.
“There was a little bit at the beginning just getting a feel for each other, and they’re all a little bit different in their own way,” he said. “That comes a lot quicker I think.”
Across the board, Michigan players have said Patterson is supremely confident. He still awaits word from the NCAA whether he will be eligible this fall.
“He carries himself with a lot of confidence going into the huddle and being very assertive,” Martin said. “He’s a playmaker. He can extend plays. I think that’s unique to him.”
Unique to Martin is that he excelled not only in football as the state of Iowa’s top-rated player, but also swimming. He won eight state titles. He announced his commitment to Michigan by jumping in the Canham Natatorium pool along with Harbaugh and pass-game coordinator Pep Hamilton.
If possible, Martin wouldn’t mind trying to be a dual athlete at Michigan.
“I’ve thought about going back to it next year,” he said. “Considering it. I haven’t talked to the coaches in a while, but I miss it. It was something I grew up doing my whole life, and I love that sport.
“Swimming is a sport that requires a lot of time commitment and a lot of drive and perseverance. I think you can bring that mentality from swimming into football and apply it to football as well.”