ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Jim McElwain has set the bottom line for Michigan’s wide receivers.
Become a bigger factor in the offense in 2018.
Get open. Create separation. Be tough.
Michigan’s new wide receivers coach’s goal is to improve the unit — a unit that has talent but went through a rocky 2017. Receivers caught only 3 of the Wolverines’ 9 touchdown passes last season and finished 11th in the conference in receiving average (171.2 yards).
“For us, one of the focus areas has been ability to, No. 1, get open, especially against all the press coverage that you see,” McElwain said. “They’ve really worked on honing their skills and trying to do what we’re trying to teach them to do. And yet we’ve got a long ways to go.”
Freshman wide receiver Tarik Black has a bigger goal for his position group.
“We need to come out this year and prove that we’re one of the best receiving corps in the Big Ten,” Black said.
Last season, Michigan’s younger receivers dropped balls they should have caught. They couldn’t establish separation against older, more experienced defensive backs. They also didn’t fully comprehend the nuances of playing the position in college.
“We’ve got to get open for our quarterbacks,” said Donovan Peoples-Jones, who had 277 yards on 22 catches as a freshman in 2017. “We’ve got to be ready to do that, at any given time.”
McElwain wants his receivers to improve their aggressiveness. He likens catching a pass to grabbing a rebound in basketball, that a solid grab can make a difference in the direction of the offense.
“That ball, when it’s in the air, getting it off the glass in a hurry, and getting it jammed,” McElwain said. “Making sure that when we do get the opportunity to get it down the field, the things that are referred to as 50-50 balls, we’ve got to come up with those, and give our offense an opportunity to change field position.”
Black voiced the goals for the wide receivers this fall. They’re in line with what McElwain emphasizes: Get open. Create separation. Execute the routes and track the ball down field.
“That’s what we need to keep doing, to help our team,” Black said. “We all feel we should have done a lot better [in 2017], obviously.”
Michigan’s wide receivers also like McElwain’s approach.
“He’s very relatable,” freshman Oliver Martin said. “Very personable. I like him a lot. He breaks down the offense so that it’s simple for all the players. I like relating with him.
“And I think he’s broken things down from a technical standpoint. We’re able to do the releases they’re equipping us with, pretty easily.”
McElwain is emphasizing the value of the wide receivers in Michigan’s offense, and how they can impact the offense.
“That’s a position where you can truly have the opportunity to affect the game in a positive way,” McElwain said. “The opportunity to change field position drastically, with your play. That’s what we’re hoping, within the system that’s built, to be able to go do.”