Expectations are high for the Michigan football team, perhaps highest for the receiving corps. It’s a promising unit that returns the bulk of last year’s production while adding fifth-year senior Ronnie Bell, who has recovered from his ACL injury.
Hyperboles and platitudes are always tossed around this time of year, with the receivers frequent recipients. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh recently said they have the “license and the ability to be the best we’ve ever had.”
Receivers coach Ron Bellamy — once a receiver himself for the Wolverines from 1999 to 2002 — gave a more concrete comparison.
Draped on the walls of Bellamy’s office are pictures of his former teammates: Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant, Steve Breaston, David Terrell and Marquise Walker.
“Just a history lesson for the boys,” Bellamy explained to reporters Tuesday. “Anytime they come in the office, we talk about the legacy of Michigan football and the great tradition of wide receiver play.”
Andrel Anthony visited Bellamy’s office recently and, as Bellamy hoped, the sophomore receiver noticed the pictures. Anthony, Bellamy says, is striving to emulate Edwards as a tall, lanky downfield threat.
Bellamy sees a little bit of Breaston in Bell, a pair of slippery, savvy receivers. In Avant — a bulldog willing to do the “dirty work” by playing special teams and making blocks — Bellamy can visualize freshman Darrius Clemons.
These comparisons may be rash. Clemons, for one, is yet to play a collegiate snap. Anthony is largely unproven, too.
But in Bellamy’s mind, they are not so much comparisons as a blueprint. The history lessons are designed to open players to their potential, what they can accomplish as a unit and what they should be aiming to achieve. The fact that Bellamy is willing to talk openly about it speaks to the general confidence in the unit’s ability.
With competition fierce and playing time scarce, presenting a blueprint for success should bode well.
“You don’t have to be the starter to compete,” Bellamy said. “You want to get on the football field? Whatever you have to do — if your role is blocking, if you are a deep ball guy, if you are gonna move the chain, whatever it may be, you compete your butt off and try to get the opportunity to play on the football field.
“Our guys have that understanding, that the best players will play and the guys who do things well get an opportunity to showcase what they can do.”
In such a crowded room, versatility is all the more important. Michigan has embraced flexibility and different skill sets, with Bellamy mentioning junior receiver Roman Wilson, junior receiver A.J. Henning and sophomore running back Donovan Edwards as three players who stand out in that regard.
“Our guys are all over the football field playing multiple positions,” Bellamy said. “I think that’s what you need to ascend to being one of the best position groups, and I think you’ll put defenses in more conflicts than not.”
That’s a luxury the Wolverines did not have last season. Bell’s injury in the season-opener thrust then-junior Cornelius Johnson into the WR1 role. Stiffer competition honed in on Johnson, often matching him up with the top defensive back. And while Johnson led the team in receiving yards, the group’s overall capabilities were stunted.
Bell’s return should nullify that strategy, either on Johnson or any of Michigan’s weapons. This is a group that is deeper, more experienced and more talented than a year ago — so much so that Bellamy calls them all No. 1 options.
“You have a plethora of guys, plethora of options,” Bellamy said. “From a defensive standpoint, pick your poison.”