TEs need to blend strength, skill

To preview Michigan's football season this year, WolverineNation takes a look at each position through the spectrum of the expectations of the position set by head coach Brady Hoke and the coordinators -- along with those who have played the position at Michigan in the past.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It took Bennie Joppru one practice, one day, to realize what expectations for tight ends were at Michigan. All he needed to do was stare at the bottom of the trash can and then hear his coach's voice to understand it.

Joppru, a former Michigan tight end, had just finished vomiting and figured his practice would be done. Minutes later a coach yelled at him to step on the field again. In the midst of a freshman practice, Joppru was the only tight end Michigan had brought in, so he had to do everything.

"I snuck out of my dorm room in between practices the second day I was there and went to the bus station," Joppru said. "I was puking every practice and it was hard. I went to the bus station, called my parents and said I was coming home on a bus."

While his parents tried to talk him out of it, he felt a tap on his shoulder, turned around and saw his coach, Lloyd Carr, who simply told him "Get in the car."

"Coach Carr told me it's not going to be like this every day," Joppru said. "I was just a young kid and I literally thought it was going to be like that the rest of my life every day at Michigan.

"Obviously it's not. It builds your character up and you learn to push through things."

It helped Joppru at one of the most physical positions on the field, one where the main expectation has little to do with blocking or catching, but everything to do with how strong you are physically and mentally.

At Michigan -- and really throughout college football -- tight end is turning into a multiple, hybrid position with different players having different duties. Michigan for example, asks a blocking tight end such as A.J. Williams to do different things than fellow freshman Devin Funchess, who will be expected to contribute as a more capable pass catcher.

"You have to be able to block like a lineman because we ask them to do a lot," Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "[A tight end] has to block on the line of scrimmage like a lineman, but the more we get into the tight end, pro-style approach -- and you saw it last year a little bit -- the tight end is going to become a more prominent receiver.

"So it's another one where you have to be multi-faceted to play the position the way we want him to play."

A difference at Michigan is the tight end is going to play with his hand on the ground, more like an old-school tight end, instead of being out in space lining up like a wide receiver. Also, he has to be able to work in tandem with the offensive tackles on blocking schemes.

When he is catching the ball, expect the tight end to be used over the middle more than any other potential pass catcher in the Michigan offense, Borges said. In some ways, this turns the tight end into a safety net for the quarterback and as a chain-mover in the passing game.

To do all that, Borges said, the player has to be tough.

"It's a tough position to play," Joppru said. "If you aren't tough enough, you just don't cut it at that position. You have to be able to block guys who are bigger than you and make a tough catch. You can't shy away from contact."

Michigan will also start to use a "U-receiver," which is essentially a tight end who often will go in motion and line up in various spots before the play starts. This tight end is usually a little thinner -- Borges said more in the 240-pound range instead of 260 pounds -- and will be used more in pass routes.

The expectations -- being able to block and go over the middle -- remain.

Who handles both spots for Michigan this season is a major question, since none of the players on the roster have significant experience following Kevin Koger's graduation and a de-emphasis on the position when the Wolverines ran the spread offense with Rich Rodriguez.

As Michigan transforms into the pro style again, the tight end will come back into play with the Wolverines -- once they find enough of them who are as tough as they'd like them to be.