Through three games, Michigan’s tight ends have just seven catches. In last year’s first three games, the Wolverines had 13 catches at the position.
Like last year, Michigan has mostly gone with a two-tight end rotation — this time with fifth-year senior Nick Eubanks and sophomore Erick All. While it doesn’t help that Eubanks missed the Minnesota game with an undisclosed injury, the tight ends have also underperformed so far.
Those seven catches this season came on 16 targets for less than a 50% completion rate. Against Michigan State, All was targeted nine times and caught just three of those. Not all of that is on All — junior quarterback Joe Milton has struggled with accuracy as well — but All has had several notable drops, including a likely touchdown against Minnesota, two passes against the Spartans and one against Indiana that would’ve converted on third down.
“For him really it’s a real simple fix,” tight ends coach Sherrone Moore said Wednesday. “It’s an eyes problem that we’ve talked about. He’s made some of the most spectacular catches in practice and he made another one yesterday. It’s really just focus on where his eyes are when the ball comes in play. So I think he gets a little hyped up, a little amped up sometimes, and he puts a lot of pressure on himself. … We just continue to work. We have full confidence in Erick and his abilities so he’s progressing, he’ll make those plays soon.”
That may be easier said than done, though. Moore believes that All’s problem may be more mental than physical, comparing it to a basketball player who misses a few shots and then gets in their head. So the coaching staff has focused on building up All’s confidence to get him back to where they know he can be.
Eubanks, meanwhile, has just two catches on four targets since returning from injury. Moore said that Eubanks is back to 100% and full go in practices, but it can take a while for an injured player to shake off the rust. The run game has struggled as well, and Eubanks, never known as a blocker, hasn’t been immune to criticism there.
But Moore believes there may be another key for the tight ends — Eubanks’s leadership. As a captain, Eubanks is one of the most experienced and loudest voices on the offense and now that he’s back on the field, he could help not only All, but the rest of the offense.
When asked about the emotional leaders on the team Tuesday, sophomore wide receiver Giles Jackson sang Eubanks’ praises.
“The big one is probably Nick Eubanks,” Jackson said. “Nick is like a big brother to me. He talked us up before the game, talked us up at halftime, and I’d say he’s a real leader for us on the offensive side.”
Moore, too, pointed to Eubanks’s leadership. In Tuesday’s practice, Moore noticed a change in All — a new sparkle in his eye. Moore credited that to having Eubanks, All’s “big brother,” there cheering him on.
Like with the rest of the offense, it isn’t just one thing ailing the tight ends. But if Michigan’s tight ends can shake off the rust and build up their confidence, it could add a new dimension to the offense, giving the Wolverines some larger pass-catching threats.
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