Michigan Football: Wolverines' Strength at TE Can Dominate in 2013 and Beyond

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Michigan Football: Wolverines' Strength at TE Can Dominate in 2013 and Beyond
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Devin Funchess is just one of many weapons Michigan has at tight end.

The Michigan Wolverines are building one of the Big Ten’s elite and well-rounded programs because of good old-fashioned, elbow-greased inspired recruiting.

Coach Brady Hoke is on the cusp of a quick turnaround in Ann Arbor, and his past three recruiting classes have given reason for Wolverines followers to anticipate immediate success.

A winner of 19 games in his first two years as head coach, Hoke is luring the caliber of high-end stars who made Michigan famous in past decades.

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Hoke is getting the bruiser-type running backs. With Derrick Green leading the way, Michigan has one of the better backfields in the Big Ten.

Hoke is getting the pro-style quarterbacks who he desires—Shane Morris (2013) and Wilton Speight (2014)—and, maybe most importantly, he’s stockpiling tight ends.

With existing talent and newcomers on their way, Michigan stands to have an upper-echelon group of big-bodied ball-catchers in the coming years .

Devin Funchess may be a bit underweight to be a true hard-nosed Michigan tight end. But at 6’4” and 229 pounds, the sophomore-to-be has the potential to be an ace up Hoke’s sleeve this fall.

A.J. Williams brings a level of toughness and tenacity that can’t be denied. Offensive coordinator Al Borges may have hit the jackpot. He can now run an effective two-tight end set or tinker with one-end formations, mixing and matching Funchess and Williams in specialized plays.

 

Michigan’s Future at TE is Now

A.J. Williams (fighting for a fumble) has the makings of a classic Wolverines TE (Photo: Jay LaPrete, Associated Press)

Funchess, a former 3-star prospect out of Farmington Hills Harrison (Mich.), was the No. 14 tight end of the 2012 class. He showcased an impressive ability to grab jump balls and stretch the field this past fall as a college freshman.

Michigan followers waited for Funchess to explode on the scene after his four-catch, 106-yard exploit against Air Force—it didn’t happen, but it’s on its way.

Williams, a former Sycamore High (Cincinnati) star, played in 13 games as a backup in 2012. Like Funchess, he was one of the better tight ends of the 2012 class, ranked No. 22 overall and slapped with a 3-star rating. The 6’6”, 265-pound sophomore-to-be has the physical stature that screams “classic Wolverines tight end.”

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With Williams and Funchess on the ends, quarterback Devin Gardner has the best of both worlds—Funchess is more like an athletic receiver, while Williams has the frame to be a superb hole-opener for the running backs.

Thomas Rawls, Drake Johnson, Justice Hayes and Green should flourish with either Funchess or Williams plugged into the offense. Having a two-look set creates opportunities for the ground game.

Williams, because of his size, can challenge linebackers and defensive ends for space while opening the gates for his ball-carrying teammates. He runs a respectable 4.9-second 40-yard dash, too. With the agility to halt floods of defenders, Williams poses problems for defensive coordinators.

Squatting over 400 pounds, Williams most certainly has the foundation to anchor in the path of a player with designs of putting Gardner on his back or stopping Green for a loss. He didn’t haul in a catch as a high school senior—he was too busy bulldozing the opposition and helping Sycamore average 297 rushing yards per outing.

Funchess’ potential isn’t limitless, but it’s plentiful.

The Wolverines relied heavily upon Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo in 2012. Now that he’s more comfortable within the offense, he may be worked into the scheme on a more frequent basis, taking on a bigger role and alleviating pressure for the receivers.

Although he had just 15 catches this past season, Funchess averaged an optimism-inspiring 15.6-yard average per grab. Most of his damage was done at The Big House (11 catches, 5 TD). Becoming a reliable option on the road would make Funchess an indispensable commodity.

 

The Understudies

Jake Butt has the technique of a college star—he just needs to further develop it.

Jake Butt is the No. 5 tight end of the 2013 class. Rated as a 4-star prep, the Pickerington North (Pickerington, Ohio) standout brings a 6’6”, 235-pound piece that has basketball-like athleticism to the equation in Ann Arbor. He’s learning the offense as an early enrollee at Michigan.

Michigan’s deepest offensive position may be tight end. Expect immense competition in that department. Butt should hold his own against the likes of Dylan Esterline, Clark Grace and Jordan Paskorz, just to name a few.

(Wolverines spring roster)

Michigan signed Detroit Crockett’s Khalid Hill in February. At 6’2” and 230 pounds, the 3-star prospect (No. 32 tight end) will likely be shelved with a handful of others due to depth. Being an incoming freshman, Hill is in a great position at this juncture—he has a year or two to gain weight and learn Borges’ ways.

The Wolverines recently gained the commitment of Ian Bunting, a 6’7”, 215-pound 3-star Hinsdale Central (Hinsdale, Ill.) tight end. He’s No. 14 overall at the position (2014 class).

 

Strong TE Group Ideal for Michigan

Hoke’s plan to win a Big Ten title by way of power football looks like it’ll come to fruition within the next two years. Tack on two years to that, and he’ll have the Wolverines contending for national championships. With the new playoff system ready to go into effect, having a pocket full of talented tight ends making up a well-manned rotation will come in handy during the tournament.

They’ve longed for it for years, and now Michigan fans are getting what they asked for—Michigan football. Tight ends are often vital to the success of an offense. Funchess can stretch the field. Williams can shorten it for defenders. That 1-2 punch will help set the tone for the offense.

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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