ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges is a football mind at it’s finest. Formations, packages, and plays -- they’re constantly working their way in and out of his head, marveling at the possibilities and production they could lead to on the field in the fall.
One position Borges has always had a special fondness for is tight end. Looking down at his depth chart in spring practice, some talented, versatile players stand out, but most importantly, they’re bodies that have scholarships, unlike spring just one year ago.
Sophomores Devin Funchess and A.J. Williams bring their own attributes to the table, as well as freshman Jake Butt who appears to be a nice mix of both a tough blocker on the line of scrimmage and big-bodied pass catcher in traffic. Borges’ vision for the position is slowly morphing into shape, and is a tool he recruits with.
“I’m a tight end kind of guy,” said Borges. “I love tight ends. I always have. I tell guys when we recruit them, when this things’ working the way it should work, you’ve died and gone to tight end heaven because this is a great place to play tight end. We don’t just play with one; we sometimes play with two, and a couple times last year we played with three.
“There’s so many things you can do with that position if you’ve got a good versatile athlete -- it’s limitless. Plus, it raises hell with the defense. A guy that can attack the middle of the field quickly with the passing game and be able to block on the line of scrimmage, that’s good stuff. The NFL epitomizes it.”
Saturday, Michigan spread the ball around to all three of their young tight ends, potentially showcasing their own model for success offensively with strong-armed junior quarterback Devin Gardner delivering footballs.
“That was not an intent going into the game but as long as we have good receiving tight ends then it’s our job to see to it that they get the ball,” said Borges. “So, when this offense runs the way it’s supposed to be run, the tight end can be a featured receiver -- he can be catching as many passes as the wide outs can.”
Several freshmen on both sides of the ball have improved their case to throw the redshirt word away and appear on the field this fall -- possibly no one more than Butt. Butt caught a 12-yard touchdown pass in the middle of three Wolverine defenders during the spring game. More of those connections appear to be on the way with a strong summer, and productive fall camp.
“He’s exactly what we recruited,” said Borges. “He’s like any other kid that comes -- he needs to get stronger, do some things but he possesses the skill set to play the position and that’s what we care about. If he has that skill set it’s our job to get him stronger and faster and learn the system and do all that stuff but he’s really been a nice addition.”
Funchess’ spring development isn’t a shock after catching five touchdowns as a freshman in 2012, but it’s every other part of his game impressing the coaches, which could open up he and his teammates even more in the secondary by disguising packages.
“Funchess is a good receiver and we know it,” said Borges. “You saw it (Saturday), he made a great adjustment on a throw, which, didn’t surprise anybody because he does it all the time. But with Devin, we wanted to get him the rest of his game shored up so we could get him in more so that they (the defense) didn’t know every time he goes in, here comes a pass. And he did it.”
On the flip side, Williams dropped weight during the winter and has shown more consistency in all phases of his game.
“AJ has good receiver skills,” said Borges. “He’s not as fast as Devin Funchess but we’re trying to get him more involved too so he’s not just a one dimensional guy.
“We’re trying to get where there’s more, both are doing both if that makes any sense.”
Watch video of Borges assessing the rest of the offense by clicking play below.