- Todd Needle/Daily
By Everett Cook, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 16, 2013
The man tied for third on the No.15 Michigan football team in receptions didn’t have the preseason expectations that redshirt freshman wide receiver Jehu Chesson did. He also doesn’t have the experience that fifth-year senior Joe Reynolds or senior Jeremy Jackson do.
He’s tied for third in catches with fifth-year senior Drew Dileo, an offensive mainstay, and with sophomore Dennis Norfleet, one of the fastest and most exciting position players on the roster.
The player, freshman tight end Jake Butt, is perhaps the biggest offensive surprise of the season. He was so skinny going into spring camp that fifth-year senior offensive tackle Michael Schofield thought he looked more like a wide receiver than a tight end.
Now, more than seven months after spring camp, Butt is growing both into his body and a bigger role in the Wolverine offense.
“I thought Jake Butt was probably our nicest surprise after spring football,” said offensive coordinator Al Borges last week. “He came in kind of light, so we assumed it would probably take a year and we would redshirt him. But he came back bigger and stronger. Jake’s always had good football awareness, even from the first day he got here. So he’s made a contribution much faster than we had anticipated after spring football.”
In high school, Butt caught almost 100 passes and was a considered a top-five tight end recruit by every major scouting service in the country. He was expected to contribute, just not right away.
After choosing to enroll early, Butt arrived on campus in January, which likely made all the difference for the type of work he put in. Starting five months before the rest of the class allowed Butt to accelerate his physical development, so without that extra time in Ann Arbor, there’s a good chance he would still be on the sidelines.
“When he first came in, he was a little smaller and a little skinnier and everything,” Schofield said. “He kind of looked like a receiver. Now, he’s definitely built up. I’ve seen a lot more improvement in his run-blocking skills. That strength he’s added has definitely helped him to become a better run-blocking tight end.”
Against Notre Dame, Butt saw significant minutes and was targeted in the red zone several times. He finished with two catches, but that game signified his emergence in the lineup.
Last week against Akron, with No. 2 tight end A.J. Williams sidelined because of an ankle injury suffered against the Fighting Irish, Butt stepped into the starting role and caught two passes for 27 yards. His only big mistake was a holding call in the second quarter, but even then, Hoke thought his young tight end was doing solid work.
“Jake did a pretty good job,” Hoke said Monday. “They called him for a hold that I would really like somebody to find. The (referee) must have seen it differently. I thought he just dominated the block to be honest with you. Maybe you aren’t allowed to do that, I don’t know. But overall, for a young kid, I think he did a pretty good job.”
The fact that Butt is ahead of guys like Chesson, Reynolds and Jackson in catches might say more about their early performances than it does about his. After fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon, Michigan needs more production out of their wide receiver corps, regardless of how the tight ends are playing.
But if the progression holds, Michigan fans will see a lot of Butt much sooner than expected, and beyond.
“When Jake got here in January, we recruited him obviously so we thought he had ability, but I think how he’s progressed through the program has been really positive, from the weights to the academics to all that stuff,” Hoke said last week. “I know we’re very comfortable with Jake. I think he’s got a bright future.”