Sean McKeon says Michigan tight ends striving to be 'the best'

By Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Sean McKeon says Michigan’s tight ends have big goals this fall.

McKeon, Zach Gentry, Nick Eubanks and Tyrone Wheatley Jr., return for the Wolverines and they will be joined by freshmen Mustapha Muhammad and Luke Schoonmaker.

“We’re definitely looking to break through, become some of the best tight ends in the Big Ten, in the nation,” McKeon said Sunday during a break in the Father’s Day camp at Michigan. “That’s a goal. That’s what we’re aiming for. We want to be the best, not second place. If we want to win the Big Ten and want to win a national championship, you’ve got to have the best tight ends.”

He said the tight ends will have increased production, using the 2015 season when Jake Butt and A.J. Williams combined for 60-plus receptions, as a bar. McKeon had 31 catches for 301 yards and three touchdowns last season, while Gentry, who arrived at Michigan as a quarterback, had 17 for 303 yards and two touchdowns.

The group has a new coach this year in Sherrone Moore, hired from Central Michigan.

“Coach Moore says that our offense begins and ends with the two tight-end set,” McKeon said. “That was really successful for us last year. Obviously, we’ll mix in one tight-end sets or three tight-end sets. I really does think it starts with us up front, and I’m sure we’ll have plenty of opportunities to make plays.”

McKeon credits former coach Greg Frey, who worked with tackles and tight ends last season, with improving the tight ends in blocking. That was an area that took Gentry time to adjust since he had been a quarterback making the transition in college to tight end.

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“The end of last year, we were doing pretty well,” McKeon said. “Coach Frey got our blocking pretty elevated at a high level. Really, we’ve been working on a lot of pass releases, pass routes this spring and the summer, so I feel like we’ve taken our game to the next level in that area of the game. We’re really focusing on becoming complete tight ends, being able to do any play, any run play, any pass play.”

Working on getting separation was a focal point for the receivers during the spring. They are now coached by Jim McElwain, who also spent time with the tight ends in spring practice.

“Because we play in the slot a little bit, he’ll coach us up in the slot on those types of routes,” McKeon said. “He’s a great coach as well. He gave me some tips in the spring on pass routes and releases.

“Definitely, getting separation off man coverage (was stressed) because obviously that’s what our defense plays more than anything. That was great work in the spring going against Khaleke (Hudson) and Josh Uche and all the safeties. That was great to work on. And obviously being able to learn zone coverage as well, get the open holes.”

Across the board, the Michigan players have said they have benefitted from the addition of new strength coach Ben Herbert, who has stressed added strength while maintaining speed.

McKeon said he has worked hard since Herbert’s arrival in January and continues to get “bigger, stronger, faster” this offseason. He said that has been the emphasis for all the tight ends. Gentry, who is 6-foot-7, was 248 last season and said he’s close to 260 now. McKeon is adding weight, as well.

“Definitely added some muscle,” McKeon said. “I’m at 250 right now, trying to get to 255 before camp. And, hopefully, play at 250 for the season. Camp practices are hard, long and tough, so you lose a bit of weight during the season because you’re doing so much throughout the day. So just trying to get to 255 and I’ll probably lose five pounds in camp practicing.

“I feel I’m always trying to get better every day. Like coach (Jim) Harbaugh says, if you’re not doing anything, you’re getting worse. Really just every day trying to get better. I feel like I’ve definitely become a smarter and stronger player from last year.”

He has set personal goals that he chooses not to share. McKeon is more focused on the tight ends as a group and being impactful this fall as he heads into his junior year.Gentry was voted Most Improved Player by the coaches after last season.

“Nick Eubanks had a great spring catching passes. He’s a realy great receiver,” McKeon said. “I haven’t seen Mustapha or Luke yet but those guys will be here soon and it will be great to work with them and kind of teach them the way Jake taught me and Zach back a couple years ago. It’s weird being the teacher instead of the learner. That will be a new experience for me teaching the younger guys.”

Preseason camp is still several weeks away as the team begins work in earnest for the season that opens Sept. 1 at Notre Dame. But the players are eager to get back to the real work.

“We love working out and working in the summer but obviously that gets a little boring after a while,” McKeon said. “You kind of want to just hit some people. I’m really excited for camp. Can’t wait.”

Twitter: @chengelis