Michigan has depth, versatility at TE, led by Jake Butt

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jake Butt

Ann Arbor – Michigan tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh has some young talent in his position group, but he also has veteran Jake Butt, who opted to return for his final year rather than head to the NFL because, in part, he wants to completely polish his game.

Butt won the Big Ten’s Tight End of the Year award last season and briefly considered whether it would be best to stay or leave.

Harbaugh and Butt always have been on the same page with regard to improving his game.

“I told him if he comes back, the plan will continue as it was already laid out -- to make him the best tight end in America,” Harbaugh said after practice Tuesday. “I think he is now. I think he can really separate and solidify that this year with just making a few tweaks.”

What are the areas Butt needs to tweak?

“Just consistency,” Harbaugh said. “He’s very capable as a blocker -- he’s been a violent guy. He’s had good hands as a blocker. It’s not 100 percent. It’s just making it an all-the-time thing. That’s probably the biggest thing. As a receiver he’s just so natural and has a knack for doing everything right.”

There is depth at tight end, although not a huge amount of experience considering Henry Poggi and Khalid Hill have moved to fullback to replace Joe Kerridge and Sione Houma. Ian Bunting returns, and T.J. Wheatley is coming of a redshirt season. Sean McKeon is an early-enrollee freshman and Zach Gentry is converting from quarterback to tight end, a position switch that began during bowl practices in December.

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They all have practiced with the first team this spring.

“It’s a deep group and they’re all really good guys who work hard and they all bring something different to the table,” Harbaugh said. “Everyone is getting so good at their strengths.”

The first spring roster listed Wheatley at 291 pounds, but Harbaugh said there was never any consideration he could move to the offensive line. He is now about 275 and gives the Wolverines the kind of big-body blocker they need to replace A.J. Williams.

Gentry is 6-foot-7 and is listed at 244 pounds but needs to add weight and strength, Harbaugh said. Gentry is extremely athletic and fast and moved because quarterback had become so clogged with players and because he had the type of skill that could adapt to tight end.

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Apparently the adjustment has been fairly smooth.

“A guy like him is going to be quicker to adjust to certain things,” Harbaughs aid. “He’s fast, he’s long, he’s going to be naturally a good route-runner. As a blocker, it’s going to take more time, whereas a guy like Wheatley maybe is the opposite. Certainly other guys tend to transition faster at the things they’re already good at, but trying to become well-rounded is always the goal.”

Harbaugh said he expects all of the tight ends will play this fall, because each has a different skill-set. That includes Gentry, although he is the newest to the position.

“He’s super fast and super tall,” Harbaugh said. “He has some things that naturally gives him a chance to beat anybody. His background as a quarterback helps because he sees the game from a big picture. And he’s really studying hard. He’s taken to it really well. I would say exactly how I expected because that’s kind of his nature.”