Michigan Football: What Jake Butt's ACL Injury Means for the Wolverines

Adam BiggersSenior Analyst IIFebruary 14, 2014

Jake Butt is out "indefinitely," per UM's athletic department.
Jake Butt is out "indefinitely," per UM's athletic department.Matt York/Associated Press

This past Thursday, the Michigan Wolverines were dealt a significant blow when Jake Butt suffered an ACL tear during winter conditioning.

After a breakout late-season spurt, Butt, a sophomore-to-be, was on the rise, riding the fast track to success and glory in the Big Ten.

But, as luck—bad luck, for that matter—would have it, he was struck down in the midst of his developmental prime.

Coach Brady Hoke said the following about the turn of events through a press release (via SB Nation’s Maize ‘N Brew):

Jake's done a tremendous job since he's been here. He's worked extremely hard and gained a lot of weight to become the complete tight end he wants to be. I think he showed flashes of that towards the end of last season. This is a tough break, but because of his work ethic and attitude, the kind of young man he is, we know he will be back as soon as he can and as strong as ever.

That set of unfortunate circumstances doesn’t only pose a personal hurdle for Butt, but it also serves as one for Doug Nussmeier, who just assumed the reins as offensive coordinator.

If anything, Nussmeier will be at a disadvantage because of a slightly thinner pool of talent. Far from efficient, Team 134’s offense reaped the benefits of Butt's production; he was expected to be a vital contributor to Team 135's plans in 2014. 

Those are the breaks…

…However, Nussmeier will have access to enough ball-catchers to make do, so it’s not a catastrophic shot to the Wolverines’ diaphragm.

A setback sure, but not a game-ender—think of it as learning on the job for Nussmeier, who called the shots for Alabama’s superb scoring attack prior to jetting for Ann Arbor.


Altered Wings?

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Without Jeremy Gallon's services, Michigan needs more across the board from everyone. It won't be easy making up for 1,000-yard production.

Butt was going to be one of those safety nets for quarterback Devin Gardner, who needs stable receivers in order to build confidence. 

It'll be interesting to see if the apparent plan of moving forward with the pass will be put on hold while Butt recovers. That's not to say that the game plan revolves around the sophomore-to-be; however, his absence will change things a bit. 

Along with Devin Funchess and Jehu Chesson, Butt was one of three players returning with 15 or more catches. He just made the cut with 15, actually. 

Now what?! 

Hoke has the pieces at receiver, so expect full speed ahead when it comes to airing out the ball. Butt could return healthy sooner than later. The Butt-less conversation could be all for nothing. 

Don't worry yet, but approach Team 135 with cautious optimism: The passing game should be better, regardless if Butt starts from Day 1 or if he joins in Week 9. However, it'd probably be better, faster, with him in the mix from the get-go. 


Funch' Bunched?

Funchess' move to WR could be put on hold due to Butt's ACL injury.
Funchess' move to WR could be put on hold due to Butt's ACL injury.Matt York/Associated Press

At 6'5" and 240 pounds, Funchess has the length of a wide receiver and (almost) size of a tight end.

Here's the thing, though: He's not a great run- or pass-blocker. Moving him to wideout was supposed to accentuate his skill set and allow the offense to bring in a tight end who could get physical. 

Tight end is a productive position for Michigan. Having a producer at the position only makes sense, and so far, that producer is Funchess, who could be forced to sit tight until Butt returns. 

Being temporarily handcuffed to tight end shouldn't wreck Funchess' season, but it won't help the overall flow of the offense. 


A.J. Shuffle?

As the picture shows, A.J. Williams gets into the ring and moves his body.
As the picture shows, A.J. Williams gets into the ring and moves his body.Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

At 6'6" and 265 pounds, A.J. Williams is a mountainous bookend. 

He can block, too. His presence will benefit the ground game, but it could limit stat production from the tight end spot.

Of course, if running backs such as Derrick Green let loose and run wild, it won't matter if Funchess and Butt aren't catching balls as a tight end. 

The only thing that will matter is how many people get flattened by Williams and how Funchess adds to the corps of receivers. 

Butt's injury will cause a temporary shift, but it won't cripple Team 135. 

Obviously, Butt had no way of knowing that he was going to get injured. However, prior to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, he spoke of togetherness and bonding through tough times:

The best things are ahead. We’ve got a lot of weapons—not only at the tight end position, but the offense as a whole.

We know if we play 11 men together, no one can beat us. … If we get 11 guys together, we’ll show the country what we can really do.

Although not a personal reference at the time, Butt could easily apply that statement to his current state of affairs. 


*Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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