There haven’t been many reliabilities in Michigan’s passing game this season, a unit that has played second-fiddle to the potent rushing attack.
Junior Erick All, though, has emerged as a dependable tight end.
All leads the Wolverines with 26 catches for 225 yards, with 158 of those coming in the last three games. On Saturday against Michigan State, he hauled in 10 receptions for 98 yards, both marks a career high.
“I think everyone was excited to see him have those balls come his way, which doesn’t always happen at the tight end position, especially not at that volume,” Michigan tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said on Wednesday. “It was an outstanding day for him. He deserves to have that kind of success.”
A year ago, All’s recurring drops provoked the ire of the fanbase. He dropped four passes in total, including a would-be touchdown in the season opener against Minnesota.
Prior to last season, All hadn’t struggled catching the ball, which made the trend all the more startling. Last November, All confessed that the drop in the opener was his first all year, spanning spring ball and practices.
Now, a year removed from his bout with the yips, All has emerged as a safety blanket in Michigan’s offense.
“The way he approaches things, because of his intensity, he gets better at everything incrementally,” Jay Harbaugh said. “… His habits are so good in terms of, he runs routes, the speed in which he practices, the extra work that he puts in, the desire to be really good.”
Added Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh on Oct. 25: “He’s more impactful in terms of being targeted and catching the ball.”
All’s emergence in the passing game is imperative for a couple of reasons. For one, he’s helped compensate for a banged-up receiving corps, with senior Ronnie Bell sidelined for the season with a knee injury and sophomore Roman Wilson having recently missed time with a wrist injury.
In addition, All’s skills play into McNamara’s comfort level and what Michigan’s offensive gameplan dictates. Until recently, the Wolverines have been less inclined to trust McNamara to throw consistent deep balls; as a result, All is often a top target, running crossing routes over the middle of the field and lurking for short check-downs.
It’s no surprise, then, that All’s recent emergence has coincided with better play from McNamara, who doubles as All’s roommate. Against the Spartans, McNamara’s career-best 383-yard performance was in large part a result of All, and vice versa.
All’s emergence isn’t limited to his catch-passing abilities, though. He’s transformed into a brute run-blocker, utilizing his 6-foot-4, 245-pound frame to maul smaller defenders.
“He’s sustaining blocks better than he ever has before,” Jay Harbaugh said. “He’s a guy that produces such great force on contact because he bends so well. He gets great leverage, and he strikes people like a hammer.
“When you watch him closely, you’ll notice this year he’s done a much better job of, OK, making great initial contact, knocking a guy and then finishing on the man as the play finishes.”
All’s status for this weekend’s game against Indiana is precarious. He hobbled off late in the game against Michigan State with an apparent injury; as a result, senior tight end Luke Schoonmaker replaced him and drew the target on McNamara’s errant, game-sealing interception.
Jim Harbaugh offered a mere “we’ll see” on Monday when pressed about All’s status. Jay Harbaugh, meanwhile, said All participated in a walkthrough but “didn’t do everything” at Tuesday’s practice.
Certainly, considering how All has emerged, the Wolverines’ offense would be at a disadvantage without their budding tight end against the Hoosiers.