When Rich Rodriguez was hired to bring his high powered offense to Ann Arbor, it was obvious that one position on the football field would become more prevalent than ever before; the slot. Cat quick, sometimes diminutive athletes that are capable of going the distance in the blink of an eye would suddenly begin to occupy many more of Michigan's 85-scholarship allotment. As their numbers rose, however, conventional wisdom was that numbers/significance of the tight end would have an inverse relationship. That was certainly an initial concern for the Wolverines' returning tight end crew.
"I don't think they had one tight end that they recruited at West Virginia," said Michigan senior tight end Mike Massey. "We have so many. I think we have eight tight ends. They have assured us, and they have proved it through spring ball and through the summer, that tight end is going to be a big part of this offense -- just as much or even more so than the old offense."
While playing a more prominent role sounded really good, it was a notion that wasn't easy for Massey and his mates to believe in the early days of the coaching change.
"I was just skeptical because everybody kept on saying (the coaches won't use the tight end)," Massey admitted. "You can't judge anything until you learn about it. It would have been wrong of me if I was to judge the tight end position and the role before spring ball."
An increased opportunity wasn't the only reason Massey decided to stay. Also compelling him was the four years of blood sweat and tears into being a Wolverine – not to mention the fact that he would have to sit out a year. Those limiting factors weren't present, though, for freshmen Brandon Moore and Kevin Koger. That they chose to come anyway earned the respect of their new peers at Michigan.
"I give those guys a lot of credit, because they could have left," Massey said. "They could have changed their minds with all the talk about no tight end; they don't know. They could have copped out, left and gone somewhere else, where a tight end is (supposedly) more prolific in the offense. But they believed in the coaches, as did we. I give those guys a lot of credit and they are going to have great futures. We got a lot of potential at tight end."
Now that he's had a chance to experience the offense in-depth, Massey is even more convinced that he and his teammates made the right decision.
"Tight ends have got a big role, big role," he said. "I think the coaches have kind of mentioned that to the media and mentioned it to us. They are backing it up. It is a huge role. A huge role. It is all really exciting. There are so many different aspects to being a tight end. You are on the line, you are in the backfield, you are blocking, and you are split out. We are split out a lot, but then again there is more of an emphasis on blocking than ever. We've got to take the coaching and do what they want us to do. Follow whatever role they want us to play and it is probably going to vary this week depending on the defense we are playing, just do it. I am excited."
Until the Wolverines hit the field "for real" this season, many on the outside will contend that the talk about the tight end is just that. But be forewarned, this talented group of jumbo athletes believe they have what it takes to give defenses fits. That's especially so for the most gifted player of them all. The oft maligned Carson Butler has turned the proverbial corner and is poised for a big time season according to a few of his teammates.
"That kid is one of the most talented players I have ever been around," Massey said. "And you know what -- he knows it. He had a great season last year. He came back and had a challenging off-season. He has a great outlook on this season. He has worked his but off. I think this strength program has been great for him, and I know everyone is impressed by him. His strength has increased tremendously. His speed (has also), and he was already extremely fast. He has got a lot going for him. I think he is more focused, which is what he needs. To tell you the truth, he is going to have a great season and we need him to."
"I think (the change in Butler's approach) came with age, him getting older, and realizing that he is about to be done the next year or two," added senior defensive end Tim Jamison. "The light came on, and he can't be doing some of the crazy stuff that he did in the past. I think that he just matured a lot."
Now if the Wolverines can just find a signal caller that can get him the ball, look out.