Michigan tight ends coach Dan Ferrigno entered the 2012 season with no experienced players at his position. He threw a pair of freshmen into the mix, and should be reaping the benefits soon.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that the Wolverines are adding two more talented freshmen to the roster. That's who Ferrigno came to Michigan's Junge Family Champions Center to talk about, and he didn't hold back.
An early enrollee, 6-6, 235-pound Jake Butt out of Pickerington, Ohio, fills the bill as someone who could make a bid to bolster the tight ends package early on.
"Jake Butt is a very tall, skilled, fast athlete, a guy that will develop into a real good tight end," Ferrigno said. "He's 235 pounds right now, and we know he's got to get stronger and bigger right now, but he can really run and catch. He's a tough kid.
"He needs to develop as a blocker, because he has been at a detached position most of his high school career. We think he can be a tight end and we're happy he's here. We've been pleased with him so far, just the three or four weeks he's been here. He brings a lot to the table."
Butt benefits by his presence on Michigan's campus. He's already working out and preparing for spring football and beyond.
"He's lifting all the time with [Michigan strength and conditioning coach Aaron] Wellman, which is what he needs, and going to school," Ferrigno said. "Sometimes, it's just bonding with the kids that are on the team. He's making friends.
"Spring ball will be invaluable, because he gets a spring and then a whole summer to prepare himself to, if he's good enough, to play next year."
Meanwhile, the Michigan coaches like what they found in 6-2, 230-pound Khalid Hill out of Detroit Crockett. He's someone who will eventually possess the size and physicality to do damage, Ferrigno assured.
"He was a guy that did everything," Ferrigno said. "He played a little bit of running back, he played linebacker, defensive end, tight end, move back, all those things. We brought him in and met him. He's bright-eyed, nice kid, and mom came with him. We fell in love with the kid.
"As it turned out, we were right, because he is a helluva football player. He's a guy who, when he reports, will probably be 250 pounds. He's 6-2 now, and he's a guy who could be what we call the 'U' back, the motion guy, or he's a good enough blocker to play with his hand on the ground like A.J. [Williams] does. He's just not as tall as A.J.
"He played tackle this year. He's unselfish. He's a very good kid, in that they asked him to go down and play offensive tackle. He did it for his team, and he played very well. He's got a really good future."
So does the tight end position, Ferrigno insists, with the newcomers combining with Williams and Devin Funchess, the rookies who were thrown into the mix last year. Funchess still needs to gain size and strength, and Williams must continue to progress in all areas, but they were tested at length in 2012.
"They'll be a lot better," Ferrigno said. "We had to do it. We didn't have anybody else. Between the two of them and Mike Kwiatkowski, we got some production out of the position - not as good as we'd like, not awful. They're only going to improve.
"A.J. just needs to improve and get stronger, but he's got excellent feet. He can run and catch a little better than people think he can. Devin, we know what he can do as a receiver. Now what we need to do is get him physically to the point where he can put his hand on the ground and play down-in, down-out, and not only in there when you're going to throw the ball or faking runs.
"That will happen, because he's a very willing guy. He's trying hard - trying to put weight on, trying to get stronger, all those things."
"In the back of my head, I tell him someday he needs to be 250 pounds. He can carry that. He's 230 right now.
"We think A.J. is going to be a helluva blocker someday, and can do some things in the passing game. We'll bring the other two guys along, and they might have to help some next year. We just don't have a lot of depth."
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