A season ago, Michigan had three 300-yard receivers. Two of those three were tight ends. None of them topped 310.
But behind the scenes of a woeful passing attack, the Wolverines had an elite stable of wide receiver talent waiting to be unleashed.
Five-star Donovan Peoples-Jones paced a heralded freshman class with 277 yards on 22 receptions, while four-star Tarik Black broke his foot after three games. Fellow four-stars Nico Collins and Oliver Martin, meanwhile posted three and zero receptions, respectively.
Despite Black suffering another broken foot, new wide receivers coach Jim McElwain sees a different story unfolding one week into year two.
?You?ve got an eager group of wide receivers in that room that come everyday wanting to get a little bit better,? McElwain said.
For McElwain, that attitude has helped soften the blow of losing Black before the season opener.
?(The injury) just puts a little more on guys? plates,? McElwain said. ?And yet I thought they handled it well.?
Thus far, the biggest improvement looks to belong to Collins. While Patterson targeted Peoples-Jones most often, Collins paced the Wolverines in receptions.
He matched his previous season?s reception total with a 52 yard reception in the third quarter ? Michigan?s biggest offensive play of the game ? en route to 66 receiving yards.
?(Collins?) assignment grade was really good in this game which tells me he did a good job of preparation,? McElwain said.
McElwain priceless response when asked how much Nico Collins has grown pic.twitter.com/J8UtBQOr5S
— angelique (@chengelis) September 5, 2018
That improvement is a result of more than simply an extra year of experience. It comes from working on strength and skills throughout the offseason, allowing him to gain confidence heading into the fall.
?I thought he was tentative (in the spring) and has his confidence grew,? McElwain said. ?He just seemed to play faster and faster.?
Behind the sophomores, three-star freshman Ronnie Bell also looks like another weapon for the Wolverines.
A year ago, Bell seemed destined for the hardwood, even committing to Missouri State for basketball. When Michigan ? his only football offer at the time ? came knocking, he was unable to turn it down.
As a raw freshman, he was not expected to see much playing time this year but proved enough in camp to earn limited reps against Notre Dame.
?(Bell) did a really good job of attacking the playbook,? McElwain said. ?The hardest thing sometimes for guys that are young is maintain how fast you can play when your mind is spinning.
?I thought Roy Roundtree did an outstanding job (working) with him in one on one situations.?
While the focus has shifted toward his young receivers, McElwain continues to rely on the group?s most experienced member, Grant Perry, for leadership.
Both Collins and Martin praised Perry?s role in their development at this week?s media availability. When told this, McElwain?s face lit up, bubbling with excitement.
?I?m glad they do (talk about Grant Perry as a mentor),? McElwain said. ?That?s great to hear. I think his leadership has been fantastic.?
Barely a quarter of the way into their Michigan careers, though, this group is not done yet.
?I?d say that for everybody, where can?t you improve. You can always improve on something,? McElwain said.
?But just to see their growth is kinda cool.?