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Published: Tuesday, 10/20/2009

Michigan's Koger trying to become a complete tight end

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

ANN ARBOR - Kevin Koger spent the final hours of Sunday watching an NFL game between Chicago and Atlanta and focused largely on the play of Bears tight end Greg Olsen.

Had this been a year ago, Koger, the University of Michigan's sophomore tight end, would have only analyzed Olsen's route-running or the way Olsen accelerates off the line of scrimmage.

But Koger, by his own admission, was immature a year ago. He wasn't entirely aware what it meant to be a tight end, often ignoring the intricacies of the position - such as blocking - and instead studying the more glamorous aspects like catching passes.

After an "eye-opening" freshman season, the Whitmer graduate now appreciates the importance of evolving into a complete player, which he admits is an ongoing process. No one would deny Koger's strength lies in his soft hands and large frame - who can forget his one-handed grab against Western Michigan - but he's now mindful that guys like Olsen don't excel at the highest level without deft knowledge of the position.

"Coming from high school, I didn't really know much about blocking at all," Koger said. "[UM offensive coordinator Calvin Magee] showed me there's a lot more to blocking than you think. I realize that and I take pride in my blocking now."

Through seven games, Koger is tied for second on the team with 12 catches totaling 174 yards and two touchdowns. He did not catch a pass in Saturday's 63-6 win over Delaware State but like most of UM's starters Koger played sparingly. The Wolverines (5-2, 1-2) will try to snap a two-game Big Ten losing streak when No. 13 Penn State comes to town Saturday.

UM coach Rich Rodriguez has at times shown tough love toward Koger, complimenting his receiving skills before making a point to praise the blocking of junior tight end Martell Webb. Translation: Blocking is not yet a strong point of Koger's game.

Yesterday, though, Rodriguez said he is utilizing tight ends more this year than in any previous time - in part because he recognizes Koger's talent - and it's a trend he plans to continue without end.

Specifically, Rodriguez wants to see Koger get better at blocking in space, which the coach said is on par with tackling in space as the toughest activity to accomplish in football.

"We have the guys athletically that can do it, now it's a matter of getting those guys to do it on a consistent basis," Rodriguez said.

Koger said he overestimated himself at the start of his freshman season, thinking he was more skilled and knowledgeable than he really was. Nonetheless, he was fairly productive, starting three games and catching six passes - including a touchdown against Wisconsin. In trying to hone his blocking technique, Koger said he had to foremost develop an attitude of making blocking a priority. He's happy with the returns of his investment but notes the evolution is incomplete.

"I've improved immensely as you can see from last year to this year," he said. "I feel like I'm maintaining blocks a little bit better, but I still have far to go."

MOLK BACK: Center David Molk, who has missed the past four games with a broken foot, is expected to play Saturday, though Rodriguez said Molk's health throughout the week will determine how much playing time he receives. With Molk returning, David Moosman will slide back to right guard and Mark Huyge to right tackle.

NOTHING NEW: Rodriguez said he looked at Saturday's game film "quite a bit" to determine whether any of the numerous reserves that saw action deserve to supplant a starter. But no changes will be made.

Contact Ryan Autullo

at: rautullo@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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