Fresh ideas: Tight end

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Can a true freshman really contribute at the college level? Is it easier to do so at one position than another? Over the coming weeks WolverineNation will be breaking down the probabilities of playing time and projections of the Wolverines’ freshmen, position by position.

What it takes for a true freshman tight end to play

This is one of the more difficult spots for freshmen to play because of the complexities of both learning how to run routes as well as block -- both solo and in tandem -- all within a few months of arriving on campus.

Michigan has needed to rely on freshmen here more often than it would like in recent years due to a dip in numbers at the spot under Rich Rodriguez as his system didn’t employ many tight ends. It is why you saw two play major snaps last season in Devin Funchess and A.J. Williams.

True freshmen who have made an impact at the position:

Funchess (2012): He had 15 catches for 234 yards and five touchdowns in his rookie year last season and although his production decreased as the season went on -- no more than one catch in any game after September -- he is expected to make a major jump as a sophomore.

2013 signees/2014 commits

Michigan is again going to look to freshmen this fall to at least provide depth. Jake Butt enrolled early and could end up spelling Funchess as a pass-catching option. He has the look of a player who can assist immediately as long as he stays healthy and with no walk-ons pushing hard up the depth chart. Michigan must be pleased with the chance to have two eventual matchup issue players in Butt and Funchess down the road as it transitions to a pro-style offense featuring the tight ends.

Khalid Hill is Michigan’s other incoming tight end and could end up redshirting or playing depending how he adjusts to the offense and the intricacies of blocking along with running routes. Don’t be surprised if running back Wyatt Shallman eventually gets a look here, too.

Ian Bunting will be the first tight end in the Brady Hoke era who could have the luxury of redshirting. Barring attrition or injury, the Wolverines will have four tight ends with both experience and youth entering 2014. By then, you might see a return to what used to happen at Michigan, where tight ends were barely used as first-year players.

The prototype of the position has changed, though, where you could see more tight ends in general playing early, but the combination of blocking and receiving again makes it among the more difficult positions to play.