March 12, 2008
Spring preview: Tight ends seek opportunity
During the 2007 season, West Virginia's tight ends went without a single catch. Their absence from the spread offense has U-M fans extremely curious to see what type of role Michigan's tight ends, including Carson Butler, will have under Rich Rodriguez
A redshirt junior, Butler (6-foot-4, 247 pounds) has made 39 grabs for 412 yards with three touchdowns in the past two seasons. In Michigan's Capital One Bowl victory over Florida, Butler had just one catch, but took the screen pass 65 yards to the UF four-yard line. It is that type of athletic ability that probably gives Butler a chance to play a big role in an offense that hasn't utilized the tight end previously.
"You look at previous West Virginia teams and there is legitimate reason to be concerned, but the [U-M] coaches have told Carson they intend to flex him out into the slot and take advantage of his offensive abilities," Detroit Renaissance assistant coach Antoine Edwards said. "They've never really had tight ends as athletic as the guys they're inheriting at Michigan, and I think the plan is to get these guys the ball and use them as weapons against linebackers and safeties."
Sophomore Martell Webb, like Butler athletic with great size and speed (6-foot-4, 227 pounds), has also been reassured by Rodriguez and the offensive coaches that there will be an opportunity for him to make a difference at tight end.
"When I last spoke to Martell, he said he was doing fine and that the coaches had no intention of changing his position," Pontiac Northern head coach Keith Stephens said. "He's fast enough that he could play a position usually reserved for a receiver, and excel. He's so big, so strong and has such a knack for making the big play that I think the new coaches will want to get him out there as often as possible."
Stephens saw Webb at a Northern basketball game two weeks ago and was expecting a mixed reaction to the coaching change. He didn't receive one.
"Martell really likes the new coaches," he said. "He is really impressed with the strength and conditioning they're doing, and he said the individual meetings with his position coach have really been helpful. He's excited to get going this spring and play for these guys in the fall."
While Butler returns the Wolverines' starter and Webb looks to play a bigger role, there will be plenty of competition. Tight end might be the deepest position group on the team with fifth-year senior Mike Massey returning, redshirt junior Andre Criswell in the fold, redshirt freshman Steve Watson back and a pair of incoming freshmen on their way.
Criswell, however, may change positions this spring.
"Andre is a great team player and will do whatever asked but he's seriously considering a move to defense," Edwards said. "He was always a better defensive player for us at Renaissance and I think that's where his true potential lies. He's not scared of competition but the tight end position is so loaded and if the coaches don't have big things in mind for those guys I think you'll see a couple of them move over to defense before the fall."
If Rodriguez and his staff commit to using the tight end, Butler could be on the brink of an even bigger breakout campaign than he had in 2007 when he made 20 grabs for 246 yards and two touchdowns.
"The ability is there," Edwards said. "Now, is the opportunity? I really think Carson is a special kid. Athletically, he's off the charts. He's 6-5, 250 pounds and he can run. When he goes to the NFL Combine someday, I think he's going to test very well. I just hope that before his career at Michigan concludes, he makes that huge impact he's capable of making."
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