Heitzman Embraces the Switch to Tight End

Despite lining up on the defensive line for the Wolverines in 2013, junior Keith Heitzman will be contributing to "Team 135" a bit differently than he had originally intended. With the ACL injury to sophomore tight end Jake Butt, depth at the position has become a concern for Michigan and Heitzman appears to be the solution.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Keith Heitzman has played in at least 11 games on the defensive line in each of the last two seasons, but 2014 will offer unique challenges to the newly-appointed redshirt junior tight end. Heitzman was caught off guard when Michigan coach Brady Hoke issued the news of his position change.

"Coach Hoke brought me into his office and made that announcement kind of bluntly," said Heitzman. "At first he commented on making a position change and at first I thought that meant inside defense and I was bummed out a little bit because I would have to gain like fifteen pounds. Then he said tight end and honestly I was in shock for a moment. I thought that was a huge change. It was definitely shocking."

Heitzman is open to being used on both sides of the ball, and he indicates that he will remain wearing No. 92 for the time being. His new position, however, does bring about several new tasks that will require some adjustment.

"I love both positions and I love both sides of the ball," said Heitzman. "I was definitely excited to do something new and lose weight. I was happy about that. Running and catching the ball and stuff."

Playing on the opposite side of the football this year, Heitzman already sees some similarity between tight end and the defensive line, primarily in the blocking schemes.

"The transition from blocking isn't necessarily a whole lot," said Heitzman. "It's pretty basic. You've got your first step and your second quickstep to gather yourself. The steps and the muscle memory make it not awful. It's actually pretty simple."

These aspects have helped ease Heitzman into his new role on offense this spring. Even though his progression at tight end has been accelerated due to his prior experience at the position, some areas take more time to master.

"Learning the offense mentally and making reads on the defense," said Heitzman. "Adjusting routes and running routes, so the mental point. [The tight ends] have all been there in the meeting room giving me little pointers and things like that. They've been great."

One of the tight ends that Heitzman has been working closest with thus far is junior A.J. Williams. The two tight ends have worked together as they each approach learning offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier's offense as a unit.

"Especially with this new style of practice everyone is getting a lot more reps," said Heitzman. "So right now I am rotating with A.J. [Williams] a little so it's been a little less. A couple practices ago I was the designated two tight end and I took all two reps which was a lot more."

Coach Nussmeier's up-tempo practice style has already had an impact on players this year as Heitzman confirmed based on what he has gathered at tight end.

"It's definitely noticeable," said Heitzman. "I can't comment on it too much because I was on the defensive side and both sides are definitely different. Defense has always been a real tempo thing- running to the ball every single play, run off the field and stuff like that. But talking with people is a definite change."

The transition to tight end has been acclimated by Heitzman's experience at the position in high school for Hilliard (Oh.) Davidson. Much of his success at tight end thus far can be attributed to his original position coach.

"I had a really good tight end coach," said Heitzman. "He definitely taught me a lot of the basics like stepping the right way and hands inside and just driving your feet. I would say I definitely learned that in high school and I'm bringing it back now. I think I was the second leading receiver. It's not saying much, like 2 passes, but it was something."

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