Spring Analysis: Wide Receivers

<p>Like any other position, wide receiver has its question marks this spring. That said, the Wolverines are fortunate to have several potential answers. How will the passing game be affected by the loss of Braylon Edwards? Who will be the deep threat? Which players will fill in behind the starters? We take a look at the probable answers to those queries in this piece.</p>

Split End
15 Steve Breaston 6-1 181 Sr./Jr.
17 Carl Tabb 6-2 189 Sr./Jr.
xx Antonio Bass 6-2 195 Fr./Fr.
xx Laterryal Savoy 6-2 195 Fr./Fr.
45 Brad Cischke* 6-4 202 5th/Sr.

8 Jason Avant 6-1 206 Sr./Sr.
16 Adrian Arrington 6-2 172 So./So.
81 Doug Dutch 6-0 190 So./Fr.
xx Mario Manningham 6-0 180 Fr./Fr.
80 Chris Matsos* 6-0 209 5th/Sr.
12 Landon Smith* 5-8 162 Jr./So.

The question most Wolverine fans have about the wide receiver positon is who will make up for Braylon Edwards' playmaking ability? Who will be that classic Michigan receiver that can turn the game around with one play? The answer is that production probably won't come form any one individual. It will instead come from the collective unit. That, however, does not mean the Wolverines don't have big play ability in the receiving ranks.

Steve Breaston will be stepping in as the starter at split end, and if healthy, could really have an breakout year. Generally coaches put their playmakers at split end because he works the weakside of the field. That is a big plus considering defensive secondaries often rotate and roll their coverage’s to the two receiver side (flanker and tight end side). That will allow Steve to work against a cornerback and linebacker instead a cornerback and a safety. Breaston, who spent most of last season with a stress fracture in his foot, showed admirable toughness by sticking out the season and being productive. The off time he had toward the end of the season helped him heal up and he stepped up big time in the Rose Bowl. This spring he looks even more explosive, which is a very encouraging sign. Breaston's confidence is also at an all-time high. The mental aspects of his recovery were his final hurdle and he looks to have cleared it with room to spare. He has looked great in spring practice thus far. Not only was he clearly the quickest and fastest of the receivers in practice, he has been extremely sure-handed. The objective for him in spring ball will be staying healthy while playing his increased role.

Backing up Breaston at split end has been Ann Arbor native, Carl Tabb. Carl never really got his 2004 season rolling after suffering a hamstring injury during spring practice. He didn't record a single catch last year, but there is hope that he can regain the spark he provided the offense in 2003 (when he grabbed 10 receptions for 103 yards).

Tabb is an outstanding athlete and remains one of the fastest players on the team. He has made great strides in his blocking and looks to be the favorite for the role of #3 receiver if he demonstrates the catching consistency required. He had a hot and cold practice session last Saturday, and being consistent will be one of his primary goals this spring. If he maintains his health in the spring and makes a smooth transition into getting increased playing time look for him to give Michigan another deep threat.

Joining Breaston in a return to vintage form is senior flanker Jason Avant. He has become known as the receiving corps most reliable target because of his "Spiderman" hands. Avant, who had a down year statistically last season (only 447 receiving yards), will be a much larger part of the offense thanks to Edwards' departure combined with Chad Henne's experience and increased ability to scan the field.

Avant's role as a flanker is perfectly suited for him. Flanker's generally are used to run combo routes with tight ends and running backs and with Avant's outstanding route running ability and ability to catch tough passes over the middle, he is very effective excels in this role. In practice Avant has been nothing short of outstanding. He continues to show excellent hands he has seized his role as a leader. He undoubtedly is one of the early favorites for team captain.

Thus far in practice sophomore Adrian Arrington has backed up Avant. Arrington, who caught two passes as a true freshman last year, will need to step up his game up to secure his spot in the rotation. It's no secret that Michigan loves tall receivers. While he doesn't have the speed or strength of an Edwards, Arrington' does boast a 6-3-inch frame and excellent leaping ability. He will be given every opportunity to earn a great deal of playing time.

Avant has made it a point to assist his younger colleague in the technical aspects of the position, which is an area in which the Iowa native will have to continue to improve. It will also be key for Arrington to bulk up and acquire additional the additional strength needed to consistently block at the Big Ten level. One change we really noticed when watching Arrington in practice compared to when we watched him in high school is he is playing with much more fire. He was very vocal and excitable in drills and in seven-on-seven last week. That certainly bodes well during situations when the ball isn't coming his way. He will need to keep that up if he is going to hold off Dough Dutch.

After taking a redshirt, Dutch finds himself in a dog fight for playing time. With hot shot freshmen coming in, he too will have to really step things up and prove himself. When on the field thus far this spring, he has done just that. He caught the ball well, made excellent moves after the catch, and displayed explosive speed. The key will be consistency and staying on the field. The recurring them his is staying healthy. He along with others that have sustained bumps and bruise, must recover quickly. Provided he continues play well when on the field, Dutch is a young man that could really make his way up the chart.

The thing to remember with this position is it could be greatly affected by the influx of talent it will see in the fall. The current crop of pass-catchers are apparently aware of the talent on the way and will be doing their level best establish themselves before the youngsters arrive.

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