Michigan tight ends embrace expanded roles under new coach Sherrone Moore

By Nolan Bianchi
Special to The Detroit News
Tight end Sean McKeon was Michigan's third-leading receiver last season, but has become a valuable blocker this season in the Wolverines' offense.

Ann Arbor — It’s almost a given that the mustachioed mug of defensive coordinator Don Brown will grace the screen of nearly every Michigan football broadcast.

The crew’s color analyst might mention defensive line coach Greg Mattison and his exceptional work with the team’s unforgiving pass rush. And then there’s all the talk about former Florida head man Jim McElwain, who has the team’s receiving corps firing on all cylinders.

But it’s first-year tight ends coach Sherrone Moore, who head coach Jim Harbaugh on Monday called one of the “rising stars of the profession,” who's subtly detailing an important spoke in the wheel of Michigan’s rolling offense.

Tight ends Zach Gentry, Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks all have expanded their roles as blockers under Moore — an important duty with a dual-threat quarterback like Shea Patterson under center.

 “We hit a point early in the season early in the season where we just felt like there was a better understanding of the offense up front,” Gentry said.

Moore took the job at Michigan in January after a four-year stint as the tight ends coach at Central Michigan. McKeon said his new position coach has emphasized the importance of learning the offense inside and out.

“We kind of do have to know everything that’s going on in the offense,” McKeon said. “Shifts, formations, all that stuff. I think we’re really asked to do it all, and I think me, Zach and Nick have done a great job this year of understanding that and doing our jobs.”

McKeon said Moore’s instruction has allowed the unit to worry less about the variables of Patterson’s decision-making.

“(Moore is) just a really intelligent guy,” he said. “We know QB reads so we know what Shea’s thinking, we know what the O-line’s doing every play.”

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If anybody could attest to the group’s improvement in protecting Patterson and the running backs, it’s McKeon. Harbaugh said when it comes to holding off defenders, “there’s just nobody better” than his junior tight end.

“He can block defensive linemen, he can block linebackers, he can block safeties,” Harbaugh added. “He’s able to be engaged with the (defender) and shift his backside — not even seeing where the running back’s going, but knowing where the running back’s going.”

Gentry and McKeon were the Wolverines’ second- and third-leading receivers in 2017, respectively. While Gentry has kept up the pace this year with 28 catches for 392 yards, McKeon has caught just 11 passes through 10 games as a result of his increased use in run and pass protection.

But with No. 4 Michigan heading into its matchup Saturday with Indiana as a master of its own destiny, it’s clear McKeon doesn’t really care.

Protecting his teammates is what he hangs his hat on.

“I take a lot of pride in blocking, especially for Shea and Karan (Higdon) and Chris (Evans),” McKeon said. “Just trying to spring them free, let them make big plays for us.”

Michigan Football Awards show tickets

There will be a new format for the annual football banquet that will still be presented by the U-M Club of Greater Detroit. The Michigan Football Awards Show take place Dec. 9, at Crisler Center. Doors will open at 2 p.m. and the awards show will start at 3.

The event will feature the awarding of the team’s annual honors and recognize the senior football players with the presentation of their awards and coveted M rings.

Tickets for the event can be purchased for $15 in the lower level of the arena and $10 in the upper level. Michigan students will be assessed a fee of $5 per ticket.

Following is the ticket sales timeline:

►Thursday, Nov. 15 at 8:30 a.m. – 200-plus point members eligible to purchase

►Friday, Nov. 16 at 8:30 a.m. – 1-plus point members eligible to purchase

►Sunday, Nov. 18 – student email and tickets eligible to purchase

►Monday, Nov. 19 at 8:30 a.m. – general public eligible to purchase

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.