Even on a night that saw a surefire touchdown slip through his fingers, Erick All still showed promise in the Michigan football team’s season-opener.
In the 13th-ranked Wolverines’ 49-24 win over Minnesota, the sophomore tight end finished as one of four Wolverines with multiple receptions — hauling in two catches for 33 yards as Michigan opened its season without senior tight end Nick Eubanks.
Beyond the box score, the drop sticks out like a sore thumb. Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis set him up about as well as he could have, using a 12 personnel set to dupe the Gophers’ defense. Junior quarterback Joe Milton took the shotgun snap, tucked the ball and drifted to his right. But instead of keeping it himself, Milton planted his left foot, reared back and threw a strike to All as he streaked through a gap between Minnesota’s two deepest defensive backs.
Milton’s throw hit All square in the hands, but he turned his head upfield before he could reel it in. In one of a couple blunders on an imperfect night for All, who also failed to bring in a back-shoulder throw in the end zone a few drives earlier, the ball fell to the turf.
“He had the opportunity for a touchdown,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday. “He’s such a good catcher, so natural to catch it that he pulled his head away as the ball was coming in. He just expects to catch everything and always does.”
Maybe not always. But on the next play, the Wolverines went right back to him. As Milton rolled left, he found All in the flat. He did the rest of the work, taking it 27 yards before going down at the Gophers’ four yard line.
“Oh, man, after that play, I thank God because after dropping that ball, I was just way too excited,” All said during a Zoom with reporters Monday. “I feel like the coaches knew that and they gave me the second opportunity. If it weren’t for that second play, I never would have been able to redeem myself and I think it would’ve been in my head.
“They just had the confidence that I don’t really drop balls. I don’t know. But thank God that the coaches believed in me and I was able to get out there for the second play and do what was right.”
Though All’s hiccup might have been a defining moment of the night, his performance as a blocker didn’t go unnoticed. With All’s help, Michigan’s offense firmly controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the game. It’s something he’s worked on diligently since arriving in Ann Arbor last year, and in the grand scheme of things, significantly more meaningful than a drop here or there.
For All, the most important development in his blocking came in the weight room. He’s gained nearly 15 pounds of muscle since playing last season at 229 pounds, which has allowed him to be more physical in the trenches.
The result? A better understanding of concepts taught by tight ends coach Sherrone Moore and an ability to implement them immediately.
“When it comes to old school and new school blocking, I really couldn’t even tell you the difference to be honest,” All said. “I just know that when you hit somebody hard, they don’t like it. … Whatever coach Moore teaches me, I know it’s right because this man is a genius when it comes to football and blocking and doing things the right way as a tight end.”
Added Harbaugh: “I thought (All) was really impressive. The unheralded player, probably of the entire offense, his blocking was phenomenal, in line, on the perimeter, just tremendous.”
On Saturday, All showed he belonged. He’s a player the staff has praised for the better part of the last year, and even when Eubanks returns, his blocking could be enough to carve out a meaningful role.
“Those first-game jitters are finally out of the way and we’re ready to roll,” All said.
If Michigan’s 49-point effort was merely a way of shedding jitters, it makes you wonder about its offensive ceiling — and All’s role within it.
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