When the Michigan football team shocked Florida in the Capital One Bowl on New Year’s Day by ditching its pro-style offense for one with several characteristics of the spread, tight end Carson Butler seemed like a perfect fit.
On one play in the second quarter, with four receivers lined up on the right side of the field, Butler leaked from the left side of the line and caught a screen pass. He then raced 65 yards down the sideline before the speedy Gator defense finally pushed him out of bounds at the one-yard line.
An ABC announcer asked new Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, who was in the broadcast booth at the time, if he could find a place for a 247-pound tight end in his spread offense.
“Certainly guys that can run like that,” Rodriguez said.
But nine months later, Butler doesn’t seem to have a firm spot on the Wolverine roster.
Butler started Michigan’s first three games but didn’t play on offense against Wisconsin, even though he was healthy. The junior has just two catches for 17 yards this season and is listed as the third-string tight end for Saturday’s game against Illinois.
Rodriguez was asked Monday about Michigan’s top four tight ends — Butler, fifth-year senior Mike Massey, freshman Kevin Koger and sophomore Martell Webb. Rodriguez addressed the last three by name, but didn’t mention Butler at all.
Late in the fourth quarter of the Wolverines’ frustrating loss at Notre Dame on Sep. 13, Butler was ejected after he took a swing at an Irish player after a play. Though Rodriguez expressed displeasure with Butler’s lack of composure, he didn’t suspend him.
Butler also got into trouble with former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. Butler was kicked off the team after being charged with assaulting another student in West Quad on St. Patrick’s Day in 2007. After he was cleared of the charges, Butler returned to the team.
Before the season, Butler said he was excited about a fresh start under Rodriguez. He was initially concerned when Rodriguez was hired because West Virginia didn’t utilize its tight ends often, but the coaches assured him Michigan would use its tight ends frequently.
It turns out Butler might not be one of them, though. Koger and Massey, both listed as possible starters against the Illini, have impressed Rodriguez.
Against Wisconsin, Massey became the first Wolverine to serve as a captain twice this season.
Koger made his debut in the same game, though Rodriguez had considered redshirting him earlier in the season. The move paid off, as Koger, caught a 26-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. It was his first career reception.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet succinctly described the play.
“It was a good route,” Threet said. “He made a great catch.”
If only everything were so simple for the talented Butler.