The starting job at tight end last year belonged to former Wolverine Jake Butt, and everyone knew it.
Butt was an All-American, the offensive captain and a fan favorite.
Sean McKeon, on the other hand, was a freshman much further down on the depth chart of the 12-man tight end group. The now-sophomore played in just four games last year, and when he did get on the field, it was just for a few snaps.
In all of 2016, McKeon made two catches for a total of 10 yards.
Now, he is part of a four-man rotation for the No. 8 Michigan football team (3-0) alongside redshirt freshman Nick Eubanks, redshirt sophomore Zach Gentry and redshirt junior Tyrone Wheatley Jr.
In just three games this season, McKeon has already eclipsed his production from last year. So far, he has five catches for 38 yards, and in the season opener, he was targeted three times.
“Every game I get my confidence a little more,” McKeon said Tuesday. “First game, I was definitely a little nervous playing Florida in Dallas, but as the weeks go on, I feel a little more confident, understand the offense better and am ready to go.”
The Wolverines’ offense has relied on tight ends at a few points this season. When the unit struggled against Florida, Eubanks hauled in a 48-yard pass from redshirt junior quarterback Wilton Speight, and one of the biggest plays of the Cincinnati game was Gentry’s 36-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter.
At times this year, Michigan’s offense has come out in a set that includes two or three tight ends at a time. McKeon emphasized how important it is that they continue to bring physicality to the run game and have sure hands in the passing game.
Last year’s passing game coordinator, Jedd Fisch, viewed Butt as one of the team’s most valuable weapons.
New passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton might not emphasize the position group as much as Fisch, but McKeon and the others are still getting plenty of reps.
“Coach Pep may be a little more relaxed in meetings. Coach Fisch was maybe a little more uptight,” McKeon said, laughing. “They’re definitely both great coaches, though. I really like both of them… (Fisch) is a serious guy.
“Not that Coach Pep’s not serious,” he joked again.
Transitioning from Fisch’s scheme to Hamilton’s wasn’t difficult for McKeon. The formations and play styles are fairly similar, and the only differences are the names for plays and terminology that the two coaches use.
McKeon got his first live-action taste of Hamilton’s system in the 2017 Spring Game, and has improved “leaps and bounds” in the past year, according to fellow tight end and redshirt junior Ian Bunting.
“Sean’s really become more of a complete player,” Bunting said. “Over the summer, he was working a lot on his route running and his pass catching, and he’s come a long way in that. He’s a great blocker, too. All the guys in the room recognize that.”
McKeon’s skill set continues to grow, as does his confidence, each week. As the team moves into the Big Ten season this Saturday, he knows that he needs to do everything he can to help the offense improve.
Michigan hasn’t yet displayed its full offensive set, and McKeon is confident that his group’s role will increase as the season progresses.
After all, last year, Michigan could always rely on Jake Butt. Whether it was finding a block or catching a pass, Butt was there.
McKeon wants to do the same.