Erick All’s hands were a long-time subject of praise for the tight end. So much so that when he dropped a ball in the season opener, he said it was his first all year, including in practices.
And yet, when he met with the media on Monday, the questions about his own play all had to do with the now-persistent drops. That first drop — on what would have been a wide-open touchdown against Minnesota — had spiraled. Like a golfer missing putts or a pitcher missing the strike zone, All had a case of the yips.
“That’s what I think happened,” he said. “After I dropped the first ball in the Minnesota game I think it was just in my head. Thank God it’s out cause, man, I was down there for a little bit.”
All’s statline in Saturday was relatively quiet — he caught four balls for 27 yards on five targets, the only incompletion coming on a pass breakup by Rutgers’ Avery Young. What’s most important to him, though, is getting through a game without the ball falling through his hands.
That, he has little choice but to assume, will dissolve the yips and any lingering self-doubt.
“I just feel like I needed to trust myself,” he said. “And once I found that trust in the Rutgers game, I felt confident, I felt like a new person took over me. I don’t know. I had a different energy. It made me a better player for the team and also for myself.”
In the preceding few weeks, tight ends coach Sherrone Moore had stressed to him the most simple of things: his eyes. He knew from practice that All could make “spectacular catches” but saw him failing to look at the ball the whole way in the game.
He told All to look the ball in — all the way in — and stop trusting his hands so much. All worked on a JUGS machine, staying after practice every Thursday with junior receiver Ronnie Bell and assistant strength and conditioning coach Justin Tress to catch 100 balls.
“I think he gets a little hyped up and a little amped up sometimes,” Moore said on Nov. 11. “He puts a lot of pressure on himself and these kids put a lot of pressure on themselves to be great. We just continue to work. We have full confidence in Erick and his abilities. He’ll progress and he’ll make those plays for sure.”
A few days later, All had another tough outing against Wisconsin, catching two of four targets, one of which was a tipped ball on which he essentially had to play defense to stop an interception behind the line of scrimmage.
So when his night against Rutgers started with a six-yard catch on Michigan’s last drive of the first half, that was enough to build on. And when he hung onto a tight-window throw to convert third-and-12 early in the third quarter, it added another brick.
No one will mistake Saturday’s performance for anything beyond an incremental step forward. All didn’t show himself to be a gamebreaker, or do anything that would have stood out if not for his earlier struggles. He did the simplest of things: catch the football.
The rest, if it does come, will do so later. And he’s OK with that.
“I don’t even know why I was dropping it, but it was irritating,” he said. “Cause I knew how good hands I had.”
Over the Wolverines’ last three games, he’ll have a chance to prove it.