Despite playing in all 12 of Michigan’s games, Carl Tabb didn’t catch a single pass last season.
That statistic would be expected from a defensive lineman and believable from a fullback. But it’s surprising from Tabb – he is a wide receiver, after all.
With Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant and Steve Breaston listed ahead of him on the depth chart – and only so many balls to go around – Tabb was relegated to blocking and special teams, where he recorded one tackle and a 10-yard kickoff return.
The situation is a little different in the receiving corps this year. Edwards is gone, Breaston has struggled, and Tabb has helped fill the void.
In the season opener against Northern Illinois, the senior caught one pass for 11 yards – his first reception since the fourth quarter of Michigan’s win over Ohio State in 2003. Two weeks later, Tabb nabbed two catches for 23 yards against Eastern Michigan.
But the Ann Arbor native had the biggest game of his career against Michigan State last weekend.
Breaston didn’t travel to East Lansing due to an injury he suffered at Wisconsin the week before, and his absence left one of the Wolverines’ two starting receiver slots up for grabs. Tabb got the start – the first of his career – and made the most of his increased playing time. The junior finished with a career-high five receptions for 35 yards.
“On Saturday afternoon, Carl Tabb just gave us an incredible lift,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “He is a guy that you don’t necessarily notice a lot, but on special teams – and certainly on Saturday – he made some big catches.”
Tabb’s longest reception was also his first, a nine-yard grab on the Wolverines’ second offensive down. But his biggest catches may have come on the final drive of the first half. Michigan State had just scored its third touchdown to tie the game at 21 with 3:24 remaining. On first-and-10 from the Michigan 30, quarterback Chad Henne connected with Tabb for an eight-yard completion. Then with about 10 seconds left in the half, Henne found Tabb for five yards and Tabb made it out of bounds to set up a Garrett Rivas field goal.
“It was nice to be out there with the team from the start and to contribute,” Tabb said. “Sitting on the sideline is no fun, but, if that’s what it takes to win, I’m here to do whatever it takes.”
That includes having a bigger role in the return game. In his career, Tabb has returned eight kickoffs for 151 yards, including a career-long of 39 yards against Eastern Michigan. In the first quarter of the Wolverines’ win last Saturday, Tabb brought Michigan State’s first kickoff back 23 yards.
Carr said he appreciates how Tabb has found a way to contribute in spite of his limited snaps at wide receiver.
“He is a guy that’s so consistent, and yet he has been in a position where there is a lot of competition,” Carr said. “Carl Tabb has never complained. He has just continued to work hard and be the best he can be.”
That attitude has started to pay off for Tabb. Coming into this season, he had recorded 10 receptions for 103 receiving yards in 25 games. But in just five contests this year, Tabb has almost doubled those career totals with eight catches for 69 yards.
Tabb no doubt relishes his expanded role in the offense after starting so many games on the bench. But if he never catches another pass at Michigan, he won’t care – as long as the Wolverines continue to win.
“I would much rather do 90 to 100 percent blocking and us win than catch every single pass that (Henne) dishes out and us lose,” Tabb said. “Doing what the team needs to be successful – whether that be blocking, whether that be catching, whether that be playing special teams (or) whatever – is more important to me than accolades or stats.”