Funchess emerges as a wide receiver threat

After sophomore Devin Funchess tore apart Minnesota's defense last Saturday with seven receptions for 151 yards and one touchdown, the Gophers were a bit embarrassed.

"He's a heck of an athlete," Minnesota safety Brock Vereen said. "We probably made him look better than he is."

That probably would be a fair assessment if Vereen were looking at the numbers Funchess put up against the Gophers versus the numbers he put up the rest of this season.

And considering the most receptions Funchess had in a game previously this season was three (Notre Dame) and his most yards (65) came against Akron, he wasn't exactly a name the Minnesota defense had starred for double coverage.

He hadn't earned that yet.

But enter the bye week, with a decision from Hoke that maybe Funchess' hands would be better used as a target than being put on the ground, then Funchess validating Hoke's decision with a stellar performance against Minnesota -- matching in the season's fifth game his 2012 season total for receptions (15) and surpassing his 2012 season total yardage (234).

And soon, what Vereen might discover after Funchess makes a mess of other opponents' defenses is that against Minnesota, Funchess finally just looked as good as he is.

"He's a bit of a mismatch problem," Hoke said. "He has got a lot of length to him. He has got good speed. He played out in space like that all through high school. He never was really an on the line tight end."

Michigan had hoped a tall threat might emerge this season. With quarterback Devin Gardner in the pocket, the Wolverines wanted to take shots down field.

The Wolverines lost Amara Darboh (6-foot-2, 212 pounds) during fall camp due to a foot injury, so they turned to Jehu Chesson (6-foot-3, 196 pounds), Joe Reynolds (6-foot-1, 196 pounds) and Jeremy Jackson (6-foot-3, 209 pounds).

But four games in, none of those players had emerged as a consistent threat for the Wolverines, and instead Gardner had to rely on safety blankets in Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo -- neither of whom really could fill that true downfield void.

And against Minnesota, Funchess proved he could.

Gallon and Dileo, while they were targeted less in the Minnesota game, eventually could benefit from Funchess being targeted more. With that kind of a threat taking up the attention of defenses, it'll clear up space for those two to come in and snag catches and yards that teams might not be expecting.

Funchess' move also will clear up snaps for sophomore A.J. Williams, freshman tight end Jake Butt -- whom Hoke called the biggest surprise of this season -- as well as redshirt junior tight end Jordan Paskorz, who had been out so far this season with a broken hand before returning against the Gophers.

All three have shown blocking skills that Funchess had struggled with through the last year and a half.

But Hoke didn't completely rule out the possibility of Funchess moving back to tight end at some point down the road.

With Darboh returning next season, as well as freshman wide receiver Da'Mario Jones getting some looks in practice, at some point Hoke might find that Michigan needs more depth at tight end and this experience will only make the position better.

"I think he still has that ability," Hoke said. "Especially when you look at his development, from a physical standpoint, over his career here. He's going to be a little bit bigger. He's going to be a little bit stronger."

It's just that right now his strength is receiving. And that's exactly where the Wolverines' weakness was.