Thursday, August 2, 2012
WRs aren't just playmakers
By Michael Rothstein WolverineNation
To preview Michigan's football season this year, WolverineNation takes a look at each position through the spectrum of the expectations of the position set by head coach Brady Hoke and the coordinators -- along with those who have played the position at Michigan in the past.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Steve Breaston looked around the wide receivers room throughout his career and saw the rest of the talent in there -- Mario Manningham, Adrian Arrington, Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant -- and understood immediately.
He had to keep the streak going, continue the legacy of receivers coming through Michigan. It was something that went unspoken among all of them, but each never wanted to be the one who let everyone else in the room down, and often they felt they were a better group, top-to-bottom, than any other position on the Michigan roster.
Roy Roundtree will don the No. 21 jersey this season made famous by Desmond Howard.
"When we were on the field, the way Coach [Erik] Campbell taught us, we never looked for or blamed anybody," Breaston said. "Everything was on us. Soup always said if we lose a game, it's on us, it didn't matter what happened."
At Michigan, wide receivers can affect the game in multiple ways beyond catching the ball. At Michigan, the expectation starts at a spot where it has nothing to do with ball skills.
They have to block. It is the only way receivers will get on the field at Michigan.
"Jeff Hecklinski will tell you he takes a tremendous amount of pride in their ability to do so," Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "Because we don't feature the bubble screen as much as other teams do, we ask our receivers to block. So where they would be running bubble screens a lot of times, we're running downfield blocking people.
"That's a message sent because we think you have to be a lot tougher to block somebody than to run a bubble screen. That's part of it."
Blocking has been a part of the expectation no matter who the coach was, be it Bo Schembechler, Gary Moeller, Lloyd Carr, Rich Rodriguez or Brady Hoke.
"You have to block," former Michigan receiver Ron Bellamy said. "There's no question about it. If you don't block at Michigan, you won't see the football field.
"That's the truth."
This group of wide receivers kept tallies of blocks made last season, led by fifth-year senior Roy Roundtree, who often takes pride in his ability to block well downfield more than his catching ability.
Of course, catching the ball and staying focused are still main components beyond being able to block. If a receiver doesn't have good hands, he isn't going to be reliable in critical situations.
"Catching the ball in traffic, being able to make the great play every so often but also the routine plays, what I call the high-hoppers in baseball," Borges said. "A little high-hopper to the shortstop and it's an easy throw to first base, not a tough hop, you know, you're expecting them to catch it.
"But every so often, you're expected to make a play that nobody thinks you can make. That's the expectation there."
Has been for years.
Wide receiver has been a legacy position at Michigan over the past three-plus decades, from having an endowed scholarship for the No. 1 jersey -- that typically goes to a wide receiver -- to having the school's first Legends Patch go to, what else, a wide receiver named Desmond Howard.
So when those receivers look around the room, look at the No. 21 legends jersey now worn by Roundtree, the
expectations are everywhere around them.
They can't fail. Those who preceded them won't allow for it.
"I always looked around the room when I played," Breaston said. "We all had really successful careers and you look around that room and don't want to be that weak link in the room.
"We all fed off each other."
They'll have to. This is likely the most inexperienced Michigan receiving corps in recent memory. Consider: Roundtree's career 1,724 yards are more than twice as many career yards of the rest of the Wolverines' receivers and tight ends combined and also twice as many receiving touchdowns.
So when this group looks around the room, most will start by staring directly at him.