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Funchess emerges as big-play target

Alden Reiss/Daily
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By Luke Pasch, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 8, 2012

On Michigan’s second drive of the game against Air Force on Saturday, senior quarterback Denard Robinson moved up in the pocket, looking ready to take off — just 75 yards separated him from the end zone.

He had already done it on the first drive when he made the Falcon defense look like a peewee football team, going untouched on a 79-yard scamper.

This time, with the defense bearing down on him, Robinson instead looked up the field and hit No. 19 on the seam route up the middle of the field — good for 21 yards.

Who was that?

When the Wolverines got the ball back after an Air Force punt in the second quarter, Robinson faced a third-down situation and nailed No. 19 again, this time for 29 yards down to the Air Force 45-yard line.

Four plays later, Robinson dropped back on a play-action pass and found his man in one-on-one coverage, so he threw up the jump ball. No. 19 came down with it. Falcon defensive back Anthony LaCoste, measuring in at 5-foot-10, didn’t stand a chance against 6-foot-4 tight end Devin Funchess.

“In practice, I learned from the older receivers and tight ends, like Devin (Gardner) over here, who told me to go get it at the highest point,” Funchess said. “And that’s what I did. I just had to go get it at the highest point.”

The freshman tight end caught the first four passes of his career on Saturday, and immediately became considered both a reliable target and a big-play threat for Robinson. Each of Funchess’s receptions were good for more than 20 yards, and he finished with 106 total.

The last Michigan tight end to receive more than 100 yards in a game was Jerame Tuman, who caught five passes from Brian Griese for 126 yards in the 1997 season opener against Colorado.

“I went out there, did my job like I was supposed to, like I was coached in practice to,” Funchess said. “I learned from Brandon Moore, Mike Kwiatkowski, how to get off some kinds of coverages, and other things like that. It helped me in the game today.”

Funchess saw increased playing time on Saturday due in large part to an MCL injury starting tight end Brandon Moore sustained in last week’s matchup against Alabama. The ligament isn’t torn, though — just stretched, as head coach Brady Hoke put it — so Moore should be ready for action soon.

Behind Moore, the tight end position is relatively thin on Michigan’s roster. Fifth-year senior and former walk-on Mike Kwiatkowski, who was offered a scholarship this fall, is slated behind Moore on the depth chart. And behind Kwiatkowski is the freshmen duo of Funchess and A.J. Williams.

Though Kwiatkowski is listed ahead of Funchess on the depth chart, it was clear on Saturday that Funchess’s athletic abilities allowed him to see more game action than his more experienced teammate.

So far, Hoke likes what he sees out of the Farmington Hills, Mich. native.

“(Funchess is) a tall guy,” Hoke said. “He’s rangy. He can run. The thing I like about him — he’s not afraid to block. He matches up on strong safeties, matches up on linebackers. It’s kind of what you look for — a guy like that.”

Funchess mentioned after the game that he recalls slipping up on some of his blocking assignments, and that part of his game is a work in progress. But on Saturday, the value he provided as a new receiver for Robinson was very clear.

By the end of the game, Robinson’s top two receivers were Funchess and former quarterback Devin Gardner, who explicitly said after the game that he still considers himself a quarterback first.

Those are slim pickings for Robinson, who appreciates Funchess’s emergence.

“He’s one of the guys who always made plays in practice, and we knew through our fall camp we were going to use him,” Robinson said. “His number was called because people went down. He played a heck of a game.”


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