Junior Devin Funchess has always been near the top of the depth chart, and he has always been a target, whether at tight end or wide receiver.
This year, something is different: He’s finally one of the more experienced players, too.
With wide receiver Jeremy Gallon drafted into the NFL, Funchess — now officially a wide receiver after coming into the program as a tight end — fills Gallon’s role as a top receiver and go-to target for fifth-year senior quarterback Devin Gardner.
So Funchess will be counted on to provide more than just leadership, but he’s taking the responsibility of being a second-year starter seriously.
“I came in, and we only had Mike Kwiatkowski and Brandon Moore,” Funchess said. “They got hurt, so I looked to one person. Now you have Jehu and me and (fifth-year senior) Anthony Capatina to look to in our room. I just embrace it. I just want to help people be the best they can be on the field.”
For the soft-spoken Funchess, that includes leading by example on the field with his work ethic, which he said has improved since last season. But it also includes mentoring some of the young receivers on the team, including incoming freshmen Drake Harris and Freddy Canteen.
“Coming into college, everything is brand new,” Funchess said. “They ask questions and questions and questions like a kid in a candy store. I just try to answer all the questions I can as best as possible.”
Funchess will have to figure out the answers to his own questions as he learns the new offense put in place by first-year offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
“My football IQ is off the charts,” Funchess said. “I knew all the positions, made sure I knew all the formations and just got everybody set when we were doing summer 7-on-7s.”
COUNTESS HEALTHY AGAIN: Redshirt junior Blake Countess has the hype. He has been mentioned on two award watch lists this summer — the Bronco Nagurski Trophy and the Jim Thorpe Award — and was selected to wear the famous No. 2 jersey this fall.
Now, he says he has the health he’ll need to back it up.
Countess, who missed the final 12 games of the 2012 season with a torn ACL, had surgery in late May to repair an abdominal injury that bothered him throughout last season. The abdominal pain limited his mobility, and though he never missed a start, he mentioned it to coaches and trainers as the year went on.
“I played all last year banged up a little bit,” he said. “I recovered fine, and I’m going into camp at 100 percent.”
Still, Countess was realistic about his improvement heading into this season.
“I don’t know if I feel superhuman, but I definitely feel better,” he said with a smile. “I feel healthy. Going into camp, I feel just where I felt last year.”
That could mean a big season for a player who was recently given the former jersey number of Heisman winner Charles Woodson. He always wanted to wear the jersey after growing up admiring players like Woodson and Deion Sanders, and after conversations with head coach Brady Hoke, he will be given the honor this season.
STILL A COMMITTEE: After the Wolverines tied for 102nd in the country in rushing yards per game last season, they needed to shake things up a little.
Beyond bringing in Nussmeier from Alabama, those changes include more work between the fullbacks and offensive line to improve the groups’ coordination.
Redshirt junior fullback Joe Kerridge said the extra reps come while the running backs are in 7-on-7 workouts. Kerridge returns as a starter at fullback, but the offensive line doesn’t quite have the same experience returning after it lost tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield to the NFL Draft.
The fullbacks also work with the running backs, and Kerridge said that without Fitzgerald Touissant, the backs will again open the season as a committee.
“Looking into the beginning of this camp, you can’t really pinpoint that right now,” Kerridge said. “In the spring, we really had rotation of backs as you saw. It was really good — kept the competition up. All of these guys put in really good work in the offseason, so it’s looking really good for all of them to get a chance to play.”
Hoke said last week at Big Ten Media Days that sophomore De’Veon Smith earned the edge at the position in the spring with his pass protection, but Kerridge also praised the offseason work ethic of sophomore Derrick Green.