Michigan turns focus to receiver Collins after Black injury

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
The only thing Nico Collins has dropped, Grant Perry said, is a timid approach to the game last year as a freshman.

Ann Arbor — Just last week receiver Tarik Black spoke of his eagerness to return to the field after missing most of his freshman season because of a broken foot.

And now he is out indefinitely before this season even begins after breaking his right foot — he required surgery on the left foot last year — during a scrimmage last Saturday. Michigan enters its season opener on Saturday at Notre Dame without its promising receiver.

Harbaugh said Monday night on his radio show that Black’s return this season “is very much possible,” but at any rate, the Wolverines, not unlike most football programs, have a next-man-up approach following injuries, and now it appears all eyes are on Nico Collins, a 6-foot-4, 206-pound sophomore.

“He’s been balling,” senior receiver Grant Perry said Monday. “He’s been catching everything. Real good deep threat, short threat. Really, anything. In the red zone, as well. He’s been catching the tough balls that are placed in the right position, but they’re tough catches sometimes.

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“He’s doing a really good job of grasping the offense, as well, not making nearly as many mistakes as he made in practice last year, which is positive from him. He’s just hungry. He wants to play, he wants to contribute to this team. It showed in the offseason, him putting in the work and it showed in this camp.”

The only thing Collins has dropped, Perry said, is a timid approach to the game last year as a freshman.

“He wants to get out there and go catch the deep ball,” Perry said. “Last year he was kind of worried about, ‘Where do I line up?’ Still trying to grasp the playbook. But this year he’s out there running all three receivers position and not afraid to line up in a funky formation. There’s not many times he doesn’t come down with it.”

It’s unknown how long Black will be sidelined, according to Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who described it as similar to the injury he suffered last year that required surgery. Harbaugh said Monday that Black was still being evaluated to determine if surgery will be needed.

“Now both feet will be fixed,” said Harbaugh, who added that Black will miss “some weeks”. “You only have two feet and he’ll get 'em both fixed now, or will be shortly. And no doubt the best is yet to come for Tarik Black.

Black was leading the team in receiving last year as a freshman when he broke his left foot in the Air Force game. Through three games, he had 149 yards on 11 receptions and was clearly the most promising of the receivers. He also had a touchdown. 

He practiced this spring and said he could have played in the bowl game on New Year’s Day. But Black admitted he would not have been at top form.

For Black, this is an enormous setback. Last week he told reporters he was fully healthy and ready for his return after recovering from a broken left foot that required surgery.

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He told reporters last week he was confident heading into the upcoming season. Black said he was granted a medical redshirt after the injury he suffered last fall.

“That was tough for me,” Black said last week. “I think I got off to a good start and thought we got off to a good start. I wanted to be out there to help my team and help my team win. I couldn’t do that. That beat me up a little bit.”

Now, the Wolverines will rely on receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones, Collins, Perry and Oliver Martin. They said they have responded well to Jim McElwain, formerly Florida’s head coach who has been coaching the receivers at Michigan this year. They’re deep at tight end with Sean McKeon, Zach Gentry and Nick Eubanks.

“Gentry is a big threat to the defense,” Bredeson said when asked specifically about the 6-8 tight end. “His size — you’re not going to have somebody on defense who can cover that size. He poses a different challenge for them, and we can find a way to use that.”

Overall, Harbaugh said he’s pleased with where the receivers are.

“I like the way our receivers have been coming along,” Harbaugh said. “It’s been a good camp. They’ve come so far in training camp and spring practice. Coach McElwain’s done a fabulous job, so has Roy (Roundtree). I’ve seen real tangible improvement from our entire receiver group.”

Donovan Peoples-Jones

The players were crushed emotionally for Black.

Offensive lineman Ben Bredeson, voted a co-captain by his teammates, said he has no doubts the receivers will be solid.

“We’ve got a lot of depth at wide receiver,” Bredeson said Monday. “It’s a shame, but we have some guys — Grant Perry, we’ve got Nico Collins, Donovan. You know our receiving corps is loaded, so somebody will step up for him.”

When asked which receiver had made the biggest strides during camp, Bredeson quickly singled out Collins.

“Nico Collins has really been playing well,” Bredeson said. “He’s been doing a great job. Also Donovan has been making a lot of great catches for us as well. There’s been some freshmen who have been doing well. Everybody’s got their days and they’re doing well. Our receiving corps can be very deep for sure. Very excited to see how that’s going to turn out.

“(Collins) been catching everything. I’m no wide receivers coach, but it seems like whenever we’re getting in the red zone or something like that, we need a touchdown, Nico is usually the guy getting it for us.”

Perry said the receivers have to focus on filling the void left by Black’s injury.

“We lost a big playmaker,” Perry said. “We lost him last year as well, but our roles can’t change. We can’t shut down. We have to keep going.”