Tight end Jake Butt’s recent ACL injury that was announced by the Michigan athletic department depletes an already thin position group for Doug Nussmeier in his first season as offensive coordinator. The graduation of last season’s top receiver, Jeremy Gallon, and reliable option Drew Dileo leaves quarterback Devin Gardner without two of his favorite targets, while Butt’s injury threatens to have serious implications as Nussmeier tries to retool the Michigan offense.
A disappointing 7-6 season that included losses to rivals Michigan State and Ohio State forced Brady Hoke to fire offensive coordinator Al Borges and replace him with Nussmeier from Alabama. Under Borges, the Michigan offense alternated between huge offensive displays and puzzling ineffectiveness.
Borges tried multiple tactics to jump-start the offense, including new formations and multiple lineups on the offense line. One of his most successful experiments was moving tight end Devin Funchess outside the box to take advantage of matchups against smaller defenders.
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Funchess ran wild, becoming a top target for quarterback Devin Gardner. Opposing defenses which had bracketed wide receiver Jeremy Gallon were forced to make adjustments that gave both players additional opportunities.
Filling in for Funchess, freshman Jake Butt proved himself to not only be a competent blocker, but an offensive weapon as well.
The graduation of Gallon leaves Funchess as the top option to switch permanently to wide receiver, but new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier may have to reconsider because of Butt’s injury. The top potential replacement at tight end is A.J. Williams, who played in 11 games last season but only had one reception.
If Funchess moves back to tight end, Michigan will look to Jehu Chesson to move up the depth chart. He will compete with three players who didn’t contribute last season—Amara Darboh (who missed last season because of injury), plus incoming freshman Drake Harris (who missed his senior high school football season because of injury) and Freddy Canteen, both of whom have enrolled early.
Highly touted recruit Jabrill Peppers may also find himself in the mix at wide receiver. He is expected to crack the depth chart in the defensive secondary and has expressed interest in emulating Michigan Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson. Hoke acknowledged Peppers’ potential on signing day.
“Let him get in here and be a corner for a while before returning kicks,” said Hoke. “And possibly there might be a plan for him to play on offense.”
Faced with a lack of experienced players on offense, Nussmeier may be forced to draft Jabrill Peppers into playing both ways sooner rather later.
Last season the offense sputtered, and Michigan limped to a 1-4 record in November. Butt’s injury further raises the difficulty that Doug Nussmeier faces in overhauling the Michigan offense. During spring practice he will need to replace six players who played a prominent role in last year’s offense. With so many holes to fill on offense, there is abundant opportunity for new starters to shine under Nussmeier’s leadership but if the offense struggles, he’ll need to find answers quickly or face the same criticism as Al Borges.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.
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