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Published: Saturday, 1/21/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

UM's Koger to showcase talents

Whitmer grad playing in annual East-West Shrine Game

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
University of Michigan and Whitmer grad Kevin Koger caught 23 passes for 244 yards and four touchdowns this season at tight end. The senior is playing Saturday in the East-West Shrine Game and will work out for NFL scouts on March 15 at UM's pro day. University of Michigan and Whitmer grad Kevin Koger caught 23 passes for 244 yards and four touchdowns this season at tight end. The senior is playing Saturday in the East-West Shrine Game and will work out for NFL scouts on March 15 at UM's pro day.
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Kevin Koger has never complained about his role as a tight end being de-emphasized in Michigan's spread offense.

He wants NFL teams to know he's capable of offering more than he did the past four seasons, and that circumstances -- not ability -- curtailed his productivity. Koger, a Whitmer graduate and a Michigan team captain last season, will get his shot to make that impression Saturday in the East-West Shrine Game. The annual all-star match up will kick off at 4 p.m. from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. and will be aired on NFL Network. Koger, along with Wolverines receiver Junior Hemingway, will represent the West squad.

"I didn't get many passes this year, which is fine," Koger said in a phone interview this week. "It leaves people intrigued by what I can do. When I show them what I can do, I think they'll be impressed by what I can bring to the table."

People took notice at practice this week. Steve Muench, a draft analyst for ESPN's Scouts Inc., listed Koger as a player in Saturday's game whose draft stock has spiked. He noted, among other things, that Koger "got after it as a drive blocker during the team period, staying low and creating good initial surge, then sustaining for the most part."

Another draft guru, SI.com's Tony Pauline, wrote Koger "had a coming out of sorts and displayed a complete game for scouts. He was dominant as a blocker and beat linebackers down the seam for long receptions."

His coaches told Koger he'll start in Saturday's game, but not at tight end. Instead he'll begin the game at fullback, ostensibly as a way to get him more snaps. Koger expects to slide over to tight end throughout the game.

"I'm just here to improve my stock, and hopefully someone takes notice and gives me a shot," Koger said.

Most draft prognosticators, including ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr., are pegging Koger as a late-round draft pick.

Koger did not receive a coveted invitation to the NFL Combine, which surprises Pauline, and will instead work out for teams at Michigan's pro day March 15. Koger, along with some other Michigan seniors, started training with former Wolverines strength coach Mike Barwis at his gym in Plymouth, Mich., just two days after their Sugar Bowl win against Virginia Tech.

When Koger committed to Michigan and former coach Lloyd Carr in 2007, he had designs of becoming a key part on the team's pro-style offense. To say Koger's plans didn't materialize would be an understatement.

He caught only 36 passes in his first three seasons, as a result of Carr's replacement, Rich Rodiguez, instituting a spread system that minimized the importance of tight ends.

The arrival of coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges last winter figured to benefit Koger, but they scrapped their plan to install a pro-style offense once they realized the players they inherited were better suited for a variation of the spread. Koger ended up catching 23 passes -- third most on the team -- for 244 yards and four touchdowns.

"I just want to show everyone my capabilities," he said. "I want to show everyone I can block and also run down the field and catch a few balls and make an impact in the passing game."

COACHING CONFRONTATION: The Michigan-Michigan State rivalry intensified Friday when Spartans coach Mark Dantonio interrupted Michigan assistant Jeff Hecklinski during a panel discussion on recruiting at the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association clinic in Kalamazoo.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Hecklinski was in the midst of a detailed presentation on the Wolverines' recruiting philosophy when Dantonio cut him off.

"OK, here's what we're going to do," Dantonio said. "We're going to get other people up here. We're going to talk about more than the University of Michigan."

Hecklinski, Michigan's receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, was filling in for head coach Brady Hoke who is traveling back from Houston where he was honored as a finalist for Bear Bryant coach of the year.

After Dantonio's interruption, Wayne State coach Paul Winters, Siena Heights coach Jim Lyall, and former Alma coach Jim Cole were brought up to participate.

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160, or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.



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