Michigan tight end Sean McKeon said he and Nick Eubanks could be some of the best at the position this season. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis has made clear that his “speed-in-space” approach doesn’t mean only the receivers are going to be the focal point of the Wolverines’ new-look offense.
By conveniently adding the word “big” to speed in space, Gattis has indicated the tight ends also will be an integral part of his hurry-up, pro-spread offense. In fact, he was practically gushing this week while discussing returning tight ends Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks, saying they are the “best” tight ends in the country.
“Sean McKeon had one of the best springs I’ve ever seen of a tight end,” Gattis said. “He was probably one of our top two offensive players, just consistent in everything that he did. Nick Eubanks is a guy that has tremendous talent. He had a spring where it was kind of a learning adjustment for him. Didn’t quite fine-tune all the details but showed his athletic ability.
“We challenged Nick coming out of spring and to see where Nick is today, those two guys, I believe, are hands down the best tight ends in the country. Nick is playing at an unbelievable level right now. I’m excited when I look at that room and look at the receiver room.”
McKeon said he has made improvement in his releases, route running and “just seeing the ball in,” and added Eubanks has made vast improvement in his run blocking. But McKeon’s focus in the offseason was getting more fit. The 6-foot-5 McKeon cut his body fat, added muscle and is listed at 246 pounds. He was 251 pounds at the bowl game last year and wanted to get lighter entering this season.
“So I can be quicker and faster for the spread,” McKeon said Friday after practice.
There were growing pains in the spring during the installation of Gattis’ offense, as the players learned all the concepts and signals, but McKeon said the install is complete as they continue to work in preseason camp. He said all of the quarterbacks have adapted well to the change and are thriving, particularly returning starter Shea Patterson.
When asked if the offense suits Patterson, McKeon smiled and laughed.
“Definitely,” McKeon said. “It’s good for his quick release. Shea’s obviously playing really well right now. They’re all making pretty big-time throws and using their legs pretty well.”
Michigan tight end Sean McKeon said the offensive players worked this summer to keep the new offense fresh in their minds. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
And the tight ends want to be the ones making some big-time catches. During the offseason, McKeon watched a lot of film of Iowa’s outstanding tight ends last year, T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, and he came away believing what Gattis said.
“I think me and Nick could definitely be up there as good as they are,” McKeon said.
McKeon said this offense offers a good balance for the tight ends, who will obviously still be utilized in run and pass blocking while also being expected to make plays in the pass game. This offense is intended to be quick-striking and has multiple weapons in the receiver corps with Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins, Tarik Black, Mike Sainristil and Ronnie Bell, who was singled out Friday night as having the most memorable catch in camp so far.
Will every skill player be happy? Will everyone get enough touches?
“That’s kind the goal, to spread the ball,” McKeon said. “We’ll find out how Coach Gattis does that. So far, a lot of different guys have been making plays, so I think the more the merrier.”
And that means the "big-speed-in-space" players will be a big part of that mix.
“Coach Gattis trusts us to go and make a big play,” McKeon said. “He’s not afraid to have two tight ends out there even with all the receivers we have. Definitely gives us a lot of confidence he trusts us to make big plays.”
There are younger tight ends, as well, including Mustapha Muhammad, Luke Schoonmaker and freshman Erick All, who enrolled early and went through spring practice. Gattis raved about the tight ends, saying they could be five deep.
“I think we have all the pieces necessary to build a really explosive offense,” Gattis said. “You look at the depth at receiver, running back and tight end. The competition level is high, too.”
Sat., Aug. 31, Middle Tennessee, 7:30 p.m. (BTN)
Sat., Sept. 7, Army, noon (Fox)
Sat., Sept. 21, at Wisconsin, noon (Fox)
Sat., Sept. 28, Rutgers
Sat., Oct. 5, Iowa, noon
Sat., Oct. 12, at Illinois (ABC, ESPN or ESPN2)
Sat., Oct. 19, at Penn State
Sat., Oct. 26, Notre Dame (ABC, ESPN or ESPN2)
Sat., Nov. 2, at Maryland, noon
Sat., Nov. 16, Michigan State
Sat., Nov. 23, at Indiana
Sat., Nov. 30, Ohio State, noon (Fox)