Michigan’s spring game is in less than a month, so we’re going to try our best to look into the future and make five predictions for the next few weeks and what we may or may not see in the scrimmage.
Prediction No. 4: Devin Funchess will put his hand down on fewer than 15 percent of his snaps.
As last season progressed it became clear that Funchess was a tight end like a square is a rectangle -- in definition, yes, but in real life, not really. He blocked, but at the end of the day his hands were more valuable when it came to catching passes.
Michigan is severely lacking in experienced receivers as it lost Jeremy Gallon (89 catches, 1,373 yards) and Drew Dileo (15 catches, 221 yards) to graduation. Amara Darboh, who showed great promise last spring, should be back healthy by the fall. And Jehu Chesson and Da'Mario Jones could be guys who step up. But the fact that some fans are legitimately thinking Devin Gardner should be moved back to wide receiver means that someone needs to make up the ground on receiving yardage. So, let’s call it as it is. It would be much easier to move Funchess from tight end to purely wide receiver than it would be to move Gardner from quarterback to receiver.
Funchess is the reigning Big Ten tight end of the year, but he was also the Wolverines’ second leading receiver on the team. And when it comes down to it, Funchess is more valuable to the Wolverines through the air than he is as a blocker. Depending on how strong Darboh comes back, Funchess could be the Wolverines’ best bet as a 1,000-yard receiver next season so it would make the most sense to put as many eggs in that basket as possible.
However, taking even a few tight end snaps away from Funchess obviously has a ripple effect on the Wolverines. Further compounding matters are Jake Butt's ACL injury and the fact that the other blocking tight ends aren’t nearly at the same level he was before the injury. However, Funchess was never really a very naturally talented blocker (seriously, Chesson blocked better than Funchess, who has 35 pounds on him).
But between A.J. Williams and converted defensive end Keith Heitzman, the Wolverines should be able to pick it up. Williams played a bit last season and Heitzman, at 271 pounds, will likely be able to bowl over linebackers with ease. Those two players should be able to make up for what the Wolverines lack with Funchess taking more TE snaps, and then they’ll just need to hope that Butt can make a Ryan-like recovery and be back midseason next year.