When discussing Michigan’s receivers heading into the upcoming season, the focus tends to be on Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black, for obvious reasons.
Black was the Wolverines’ leading receiver before suffering a broken foot in the third game of the season, and Peoples-Jones, the top-rated receiver in the 2017 recruiting class, got better and more experienced as last season progressed.
Jim McElwain is the new receivers coach and likes the receiving corps he inherited and referred to it as a “lot of good, young talent.”
Among the young talent are Oliver Martin and Nico Collins. Collins was slowed during spring practice after the halfway point with a groin injury, but he still feels good about where he is entering his second season.
“Last year I came in wanting to learn more,” Collins said while the team was in Paris for its recent spring trip. “This year I feel a lot more comfortable. I’ve got a year under my belt. I feel more comfortable. (Strength) coach Herb (Ben Herbert) is getting me a lot bigger, eating right. I just feel a lot better than I did last year.”
The 6-foot-4 Collins is up to 218 pounds from 205 last year after working with Herbert, who arrived at Michigan in January after five seasons at Arkansas and before that, Wisconsin.
But he’s also benefitting working with McElwain, analyst Ben McDaniels, who is working with the receivers, as well as grad assistant Roy Roundtree, a former Michigan receiver. The coaching staff has worked this spring on developing technique to create more separation and eliminate what the receivers have referred to as “false steps” – in other words, wasting movements.
“They’re teaching different ways to get open,” Collins said. “Just small things that really matter. Every day we can get better.”
For young talent like Collins, and even Peoples-Jones, Black and Martin, the spring also was about shedding more of their high school habits. In high school, they were among the best, but they weren’t always facing the best.
“Can’t get away with that here,” Collins said. “Small things matter.”
With that in mind, they didn’t have to work for separation and didn’t have to focus on being that physical like they do on the college level.
The receivers benefit from facing a top-notch Michigan defense each practice and defensive backs who are physical.
“Every day we go against competition,” Collins said. “Our defense is one of the best in the country. Going against them and the DBs every day, we’re just competing to get better. It’s fun going against Vert (Lavert Hill) D-Long (David Long), Ambry (Thomas), a lot of them. They’re really competitive. They get their hands on you. We just get better every day.”
And that’s Collins’ goal, as well.
“I feel like I need to improve,” he said. “It’s a long season. There are things I can improve on in the offseason.”