Michigan wide receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski worked furiously through the bye week, getting his players prepared for jumping into the Big Ten season. He knows there will be a lot of eyes on the catching crew.
Certainly, nobody can complain about fifth-year wideout Jeremy Gallon, who made 22 catches for 328 yards and four touchdowns in Michigan's first four games. Gallon has a catch in 30 straight U-M contests, just two behind Marquise Walker (32) for third place on the all-time longest streak by a Wolverine.
Jason Avant sits in second, with 35 straight, and Braylon Edwards rests atop the list, with 38. If he stays healthy, Gallon could put his name there at the end of the season.
That's not what he's interested in, though. He wants to win, and Hecklinski insists he's already put the lie to a pre-season knock against the Wolverines.
"All I heard coming into the season was, we don't have any playmakers, we don't have any playmakers," Hecklinski said. "Well, now one has emerged, and now we need another one to emerge. It's a process as we go through this."
Another one was supposed to be sophomore Amara Darboh, but his fall camp foot injury has him sitting out the season. That one hurt, Hecklinski admitted.
"Obviously, injuries are a negative part of that process," Hecklinski said. "I feel bad for Amara. He's a great kid and he's a hard-working kid and he's a tough kid. He'll use all of those strengths to get back on the field as fast as he can."
In the meantime, Hecklinski knows opponents are increasingly aware of Gallon, and deploying accordingly.
"We're anticipating that defenses we face will be set to defend Gallon, so the ball will naturally be targeted elsewhere at times," Hecklinski said.
That could mean more throws finding their way to senior Drew Dileo, who made six catches for 74 yards through the first four, including a crucial touchdown late against Notre Dame. It could mean more opportunities for redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson (three catches, 56 yards, one TD), fifth-year senior Joe Reynolds (three catches, 56 yards), fifth-year senior Jeremy Jackson (three catches, 30 yards) or even a true freshman, like Da'Mario Jones.
Hecklinski won't go there on the latter
yet. He figures his rookies have enough to deal with, without him adding expectations.
"I don't know that yet," Hecklinski said, regarding whether a true freshman might still contribute this year. "I can't answer that question. We've always taken the stance that the freshmen develop on their own time. Rather than put any undue pressure on them -because there's enough pressure with what they're dealing with in school, being away from home and playing in his environment. We'll find out when you find out, when you see it on a Saturday.
"Are they working hard? Yes. Are they doing everything we've asked of them? Yes. Are they doing it to the best of their ability? Yes. Whether or not we see it this year or not, that's a wait-and-see deal."
Whoever is asked to step up, it's not always automatic and immediate, Hecklinski cautioned.
"I coached Ronnie Hillman at San Diego State," he noted. "His first carry was a fumble. His second carry was a fumble. However many carries later, he carried for 1,600 yards and 20-some touchdowns. I've seen kids who catch a touchdown then they don't catch the ball again."
Chesson, Hecklinski noted, came along well through the fall into the first part of the season.
"It's consistency, and he definitely has the right mentality," the wide receivers coach noted. "He has a great work ethic. He's doing all the little things. He's running through the process, and that's what it takes. He's definitely shown it in practice. If he hadn't shown it in practice, he wouldn't be out there."
The same goes for everyone that's out there. With a defensive focus clearly Gallon-aware, there will be opportunities.
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