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Published: 9/20/2012

Michigan receivers gain momentum

BY RACHEL LENZI
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
University of Michigan's Devin Gardner leads the Wolverines receiving attack with eight catches for 155 yards and 3 touchdowns this season.
University of Michigan's Devin Gardner leads the Wolverines receiving attack with eight catches for 155 yards and 3 touchdowns this season.
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ANN ARBOR -- The Michigan football team doesn't have a receiver among the NCAA's top ten. Or its top 100.

In fact, there's no Wolverine among the top ten receivers in the Big Ten Conference.

Something must be working, especially after nine receivers caught for 291 yards in last Saturday's 63-13 win over Massachusetts.

While those kinds of games are regarded as the most favorable for padding statistics, the key for the Wolverines now is to build on their strength in their receiving corps, in preparation for Saturday's game at No. 11 Notre Dame.

The Irish feature one of the country's top front seven, and while Notre Dame has allowed only 285 yards on 95 carries in its first three games, the Irish have allowed 577 yards and three touchdowns on 56 completions.

While the Wolverines are sixth in passing offense in the Big Ten and are tied for 67th in the nation (with Notre Dame), Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson leads the Big Ten in total offense with 1,050 yards rushing and receiving -- boosted by those 699 passing yards, even in spite of a shaky performance in a 41-14 loss in the season opener against No. 1 Alabama.

Having a plethora of options at receiver is a boon.

"It helps [Robinson's] confidence, being trusted to throw to any wide receiver at any time," said fifth-year receiver Roy Roundtree, who caught his first touchdown of the season against UMass.

"It helps the quarterback out, getting into his rhythm. It helps us out also, having a lot of different playmakers."

Prior to the season, the state of Michigan's receiving corps came with question marks, after losing Junior Hemingway and tight Kevin Koger to graduation. But the Wolverines coaching staff had plans.

"We knew we were working with Devin Gardner at that position, because we had done so much of it in the spring, and then Devin Funchess kind of manifested himself," offensive coordinator Al Borges said." We knew he was a good player, but we didn't know to what degree.

"As Devin Gardner developed at the position, he would hopefully supplement some of the things that Junior had done. Plus, with [Roy Roundtree] and Jeremy [Gallon], they've been productive players, and both of our inside slots too."

A year ago, Gardner was listed solely as a quarterback for the Wolverines. In three games this season, he leads Michigan with eight catches for 155 yards and three touchdowns.

The compact Gallon -- who is shorter than most of Michigan's receivers -- has eight catches for 146 yards, and Funchess, who broke out as a threat in Michigan's 31-25 win over Air Force and has six catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke believes that, even this early in the season, the Wolverines have cultivated the most depth at receiver, both from a standpoint of offensive production and in fulfilling their blocking assignments -- not one of the more glamorous responsibilities of a receiver.

"Last week, watching them block on the perimeter, I thought that was exciting. Most people don't get excited about blocking, but I do, and I thought they did a nice job on the perimeter," Hoke said. "I think Devin and his progress is coming along. I think Gallon is a tough guy and [Drew] Dileo, they're not the biggest guys in the world, but they'll go out and block anybody. That part of it was good, and the depth at that position is probably better."

INJURY UPDATES: Hoke said Wednesday that tight end Brandon Moore (MCL strain) will not play Saturday against the Irish, and defensive end Brennen Beyer (knee) didn't appear to be available.

Fullback Stephen Hopkins (undisclosed injury) practiced Tuesday, but Hoke did not elaborate on his availability, and defensive tackle Richard Ash (undisclosed injury), as of Wednesday, is probable for Saturday.

Hoke said linebacker Desmond Morgan, who sat out Saturday's win over Massachusetts with a head injury, is likely to start against Notre Dame.

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.



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