Yesterday morning Michigan's passing game took a big blow as it was announced that sophomore WR Amara Darboh would miss the 2013 season due to foot surgery. On Tuesday, coach Hoke referred to Darboh simply as "banged up" and stated that he was unsure when his return would come. Later it was reported that he was seen wearing a walking boot. While it is not immediately known what exactly is ailing Darboh, this loss puts more pressure on the Wolverines young receiving corp to produce right away.
Last year Darboh played sparingly, registering stats only on special teams with five tackles to end the year. Darboh performed well throughout fall camp and was believed to have a stronghold on Michigan's WR2 position. During the Spring Game on April 13, quarterback Devin Gardner found Darboh for a 34 yard out-route that was one of the scrimmage's top plays. This play bas set the tone for many of the reports on Darboh so far, who came in as a composite 4-star on 247. At Wednesday's press conference, offensive coordinator Al Borges expressed remorse for Darboh's circumstance before raving about his play up to this point. Among the praise doled out by Borges includes, "The kid had an excellent spring ball and capped it off with an fabulous two-a-days. He was playing good. I really feel like this was going to be a really big, almost a coming out season for him." What Amara brings to the field that other Wolverines receivers don't at this point is an exciting combination of size, speed, and ability to make difficult catches on the outside. Darboh comes into camp at 6'2" and 212 lbs., the heaviest receiver on Michigan's roster, and he really carries that weight well. He was reported as running a 4.42 40-yard dash coming into college. While that may not have been 100% true at the time, it is very possible that he runs similar times now. Borges has said that while Darboh runs fast times on the radar gun, he seems even faster in pads and called him rangy. These factors created a lot of hype around the year that Darboh was going to have.
Even without Darboh, Michigan should field a solid collection of dangerous receivers in his absence. Figuring to replace Darboh at the WR2 spot are redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson, senior Jeremy Jackson and redshirt senior Joe Reynolds. Out of this serviceable collection of downfield targets, Reynolds may have had the most impressive fall camp up to this point. During Michigan's scrimmage under the lights on Sunday, Reynolds caught the only 2 touchdowns of the day and firmly planted himself as a factor in the vacant starting role. Despite a dismal stat line of 5 career catches in limited time as a reserve wide receiver, Reynolds has the advantage of knowing the playbook as well, if not better than his competition at the moment. His top competition appears appears to be Chesson, a 6'3", 196 lb. burner that looks to be a dangerous deep threat this year. He has the size to compete on the college level, and if his high school track accolades are any indication he also has the speed to be a difference maker. Chesson probably has the most potential out of any unproven wideout to work his way into sizable playing time this year. The dark horse in this race is senior Jeremy Jackson, a middle-of-the-road possession receiver that can execute the basics well enough to find occasional playing time. It will be tough for Jackson to crack the lineup in a large capacity, but it is not out of the question.
After the sudden loss of Darboh is accounted for, Michigan has as dangerous of a receiving corps as anyone in the Big Ten. Jeremy Gallon is going to take the field as the team's marquee receiver and he should have a huge year. His senior leadership will be even more needed this year with Darboh's departure, and Gallon figures to be one of the elite receivers in the conference. Last year Gallon lead the Wolverineswith 49 receptions, 829 yards while recording 4 touchdowns. During the offseason, Gallon has worked extensively with Gardner to further establish the chemistry that the two showed at the end of last season, a year that earned Gallon a spot on the All-Big Ten Honorable Mention squad. Giving a glimpse into their offseason training, a video was posted to Twitter that shows Gardner dropping back and completing an out-route to Gallon with his eyes closed, a clip that sent Michigan fans into an excited cacophony of praise for the dynamic combination. Moments like this have expectations set very high for the senior home run threat.
The slot position looks to be completely occupied by Drew Dileo for the foreseeable future, and for good reason. Dileo was Michigan's security blanket for the Wolverines in 2012, registering clutch reception after clutch reception. While he only recorded 20 catches, it seemed like each of those 20 were desperately needed. Even though Dileo does not possesses the eye-popping physical tools of Gallon, Chesson, or Darboh, he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. The 5'10" senior provides strong leadership to Team 134 in addition to his fiery nature and sharp route running. Dileo has been a technician in the slot, running clever routes under defenses and into pockets of zone coverage. This ability has guaranteed big playing time for the Louisiana native. After Dileo, Michigan has an enticing, dynamic option in the wings in Dennis Norfleet. Michigan's depth at running back helped facilitate the decision to move Norfleet to the slot and it looks like this change is yielding dividends in practice so far. The possibility of Norfleet catching bubble screens and quick passes off the edge is too dangerous not to explore and it looks like this is a set piece that Michigan will use a couple times per game this year. While he is still learning the nuances of the position, Norfleet has received some valuable one-on-one time from wide receiver coach Jeff Hecklinski.
The Wolverines signed 3 wide receivers in the 2013 recruiting class, and although there have been rumors of at least one emerging to find the field this year, it looks like all three wideouts will take a redshirt in year one. The trio of Demario Jones, Csont'e York and Jaron Dukes provide additional depth for Michigan this year, but it doesn't look like any of them will find the field unless some serious problems arise. As for Jones, the knock on the 6'3", 192 lb. in-state prospect has been his limited time playing wide receiver in college. He was used mostly as a run blocker and ball carrier in high school, but has shown nice body control and hands when asked to step outside the tackle box. York is another in-state talent that was mildly-reviewed as a consensus 3-star across all the major sites. What York brings, or will bring in the future, to the table is a natural sense for the position and the ability to make a wide array of catches. He has been praised for his tracking skills and should develop into a solid option on the outside when he matures. As the most-heralded receiver for Michigan in the 2013 class, which isn't saying much amongst a group of consensus 3-stars, Dukes shows some potential to develop into a valuable target for Michigan if he can fix some important issues in his game. While he displays good athleticism and decent speed, he is not a burner by any means and should work on his route running during his redshirt season. If he can improve in these areas, Dukes has the soft hands and physical attributes to be a consistent option on the outside.
While the Michigan lost Roy Roundtree to graduation, the Wolverines look to have a stronger receiving corps as a whole despite the longtime productive wideout's departure. The loss of Darboh stifles some of Borges' plans this year, but Michigan should have enough options to minimize the impact of this loss. Seniors Gallon and Dileo will obviously factor into Michigan's ariel attack in a big way and look to be the strongholds of this year's Michigan receivers. As long as the rest of the Wolverines pass catchers can stay healthy, Gardner should have some not only capable, but explosive targets to throw to all season long.