Michigan's new offense will allow Koger to shine

Tight end Kevin Koger has caught 36 balls in his three seasons with the Wolverines. As he enters his senior season, offensive coordinator Al Borges believes Koger can catch 30-plus balls with Michigan's revamped offense.
Tight end Kevin Koger has caught 36 balls in his three seasons with the Wolverines. As he enters his senior season, offensive coordinator Al Borges believes Koger can catch 30-plus balls with Michigan's revamped offense.

ANN ARBOR -- At one of his team's final practices this spring, Michigan tight end Kevin Koger gained some insight into what his job will entail in the Wolverines' new offense.

Then he picked himself up off of the ground.

Called on to block defenders similar in size to him the past three seasons, Koger found himself laid out on the field at Michigan Stadium looking upward at what must have felt like a battering ram. At an 80-pound disadvantage, Koger learned he is no match for 330-pound Will Campbell.

Koger, a graduate of Whitmer High School entering his senior year at Michigan, laughed when he recently told the story from that scrimmage when he ran into -- and promptly bounced off of -- the man known to many around the program simply as Big Will. Koger hopes to experience some pleasure to counter the pain in Michigan's new power-based offense.

Koger didn't take the bait when asked recently whether a shift in offensive philosophy under Michigan's new coaching staff might provide an opportunity for him to showcase his talents more extensively in his final year, talents that were mostly hidden the past three seasons in a system non conducive to tight ends putting up big numbers.

"I just wanted to come in with an open mind, whatever they wanted me to do I'm more than happy to do," Koger said. "If they wanted me to play right guard, I'd play right guard."

When Brady Hoke replaced Rich Rodriguez as Michigan's head coach in January, he spoke about the importance of getting tight ends and full backs more involved in the offense. Neither position was emphasized greatly in Rodriguez's spread offense, as fullbacks were mostly obsolete and the tight ends were often pushed aside in favor of four and five-receiver formations. In 34 career games, of which he's started 19, Koger has caught 36 balls. Theoretically, he could exceed that number in this season alone, says offensive coordinator Al Borges.

"He can catch 30-plus balls," Borges said after Saturday's spring game. "He has that type of ability. What Kevin has, he has an NFL-type profile as a tight end."

For comparison purposes, Borges' tight end last year at San Diego State -- Gavin Escobar -- caught 29 passes, ranking third on the team behind a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson. Koger, in 13 games, caught 14 passes, trailing six of his teammates.

"I have to see more to say he's the complete package, but he shows signs of it," Borges said. "If he shows signs of progress like I think he can, the sky's the limit."

Koger (6-4, 255) has now played for two head coaches at Michigan, and neither is the one Koger signed on to play for. Lloyd Carr retired before Koger graduated high school, and then came Rodriguez. And then Hoke.

No matter the coach, Koger has gained a reputation of being a great teammate. In one of his final news conferences at Michigan, Rodriguez lauded Koger's proclivity for leading others and seemed to endorse him as a team captain for the upcoming season. Hoke recently picked up the baton left by Rodriguez when he mentioned Koger among a small group of aspiring team leaders. Clay graduate Jordan Kovacs was also mentioned.

But can Koger block? It won't be often he'll be expected to step in front of massive defensive tackles, but at the same time, no longer will he be asked to hone in on linebackers and safeties. Residing in the middle ground are defensive ends, many whom will outweigh Koger by 40 pounds or so. He says he's ready.

"I can definitely do it, but I just have to bring proper fundamentals," Koger said. "Big Will weighs 330, so if I get thrown to the ground by him, I'm not too mad."

RECRUIT ANNOUNCING: One of the top high school quarterback prospects in next year's senior class will announce Wednesday which college he plans to attend, and Michigan is in the running. Zeke Pike, of Edgewood, Ky., reportedly received more than 40 scholarship offers before narrowing his list to seven schools -- Michigan, Clemson, Auburn, Arkansas, Tennessee, Purdue, and North Carolina.

Pike is expected to make his announcement at 2:15 p.m. from his high school.

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com or 419-724-6160