Jeremy Gallon’s gone. Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemingway are memories, and the era of Braylon Edwards is miles behind Michigan.
However, some of the Wolverines’ best days through the air could be around the corner—that is, if Amara Darboh bounces back from foot surgery, Jake Butt rebounds from an ACL tear, Devin Funchess lives up to his Walter Camp Award bidding, Jehu Chesson emerges as a true threat and Freddy Canteen carries over his play from the spring to the fall...
And then there's the quarterback. If Devin Gardner can perform to his immense potential, the 6'4", 218-pound fifth-year senior should pick apart nemeses with ease. Look at those choices. It should be like tic-tac-toe.
OK, you get it.
There are a lot of ifs in the equation.
But given recent feedback from players such as Shane Morris and Jourdan Lewis, not to mention the implementation of Doug Nussmeier's simplified pro stylings, Team 135 should survive and thrive with aerial connections in 2014.
Throughout the spring and summer, reports of improvement among the receivers and tight ends flooded social media.
The escalation is more than noticeable, and upping levels is the norm for a position group that promises to yield massive returns this fall.
“Our receivers have developed so much in this past year—this offseason,” said Morris, a sophomore quarterback who mentioned that the team’s offense should be more “effective” and “balanced” this time around.
“We got Darboh, Funchess—Jehu Chesson. I mean, we got some freshmen coming in—Moe Ways and Freddy Canteen are doing really well—but our receiving corps is going to be very good this year and hard to stop.”
Being "hard to stop" comes naturally when a team has this:
Big Ten's Top Receivers: Michigan's Devin Funchess is the most physically impressive wide receiver in the Big ... http://t.co/5nhkqWXjif— TheWolverine.com (@TheWolverineMag) July 19, 2014
But there is more than Funchess to cause commotion for the other guys.
Darboh’s been viewed as a potential difference-maker since 2013, but he didn’t play due to injury. Now healthy, he’s expected to add another dynamic to the Wolverines’ arsenal.
At 6’2” and 211 pounds, the redshirt sophomore possesses obvious physical advantages—such as an extra muscle on his forearm to secure catches, according to MLive.com’s Brendan F. Quinn—over much smaller defenders.
He just hasn’t done anything on Saturday...yet. Once that happens, the Wolverines could enter a new phase, despite renewing their commitment to the ground game.
When coming together as one, the pass serves as the knockout punch while the ground game wears away at the opponent's body.
Darboh is built for that type of scheme. He's big enough to block downfield and then turn around and plow through defensive backs for gaudy gains.
As for Chesson, he’s incredibly quick and developing a set of reliable hands. In 2013, he tallied 15 receptions for 221 yards and a touchdown.
An obvious target, he’s one of three Wolverines returning with 15 or more catches—a group that includes Funchess, a 6’5”, 230-pound nightmare of a junior who’s capable of 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns, and Butt, who impressed as a freshman with 20 catches for 235 yards and two touchdowns.
When at full capacity, Butt, a 6’6”, 249-pound sophomore, presents considerable issues for those who choose to cover him. During media day, he said that his ligaments are healing and he’s “been cutting for a while” on the mended right knee.
Consider that as a warning.
As for the others, there just so happen to be a few hidden gems on the roster, such as defensive-end-turned-tight-end Keith Heitzman, a 6’4”, 258-pound redshirt junior who’s behind A.J. Williams, a 6’6”, 260-pound junior.
“[They’re] amazing—all of the receivers, everybody [including TEs], they give us challenges. They make sure we’re on our game every single day,” said Lewis, a 5’10”, 170-pound sophomore.
“If we’re not, it’s going to get bad [for DBs] at practice. That’s how we like it. All of that competition is great for us.”
How much will the Wolverines WRs influence 2014?
When asked to predict what’s in store for opposing DBs, Lewis didn’t hesitate to express how he really felt. “Problems. Big problems. I’m talking about big problems [for] everybody,” he emphasized. “That receiving crew is amazing, probably one of the best in the country, I would say.”
To say that Michigan expects leaps and bounds from its receivers would be an understatement. Now that Nussmeier is in control of the offense, anything short of that would be a disappointment.
In all likelihood, his influence and rapidly improving stock of receivers will lead to lead to production far beyond Team 134's average of 247.8 yards per outing.
As Lewis said, the secondary will be confronted during each down. Far from a standard group—it's the deepest and most talented of Brady Hoke's tenure—the corners and safeties are essentially training receivers for action.
Size- and potential-wise, the wideouts are also the best crop Hoke's had in Ann Arbor.
Blending everything together will be the trick.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
Quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer. Video shot and edited by JJ Sports Video (Monroe, Michigan).