With the switch of Devin Funchess to wide receiver on a full-time basis, the tight end position at Michigan grew a bit thinner over the offseason. And with the mid-February knee-injury to sophomore Jake Butt, the Michigan Wolverines will have to rely on some different faces in 2014.
Back in February, Butt suffered a torn ACL during winter conditioning. Since that time, the 6-foot-6, 249-pound tight end has worked towards regaining full strength in his injured knee. He talked about his recovery on Friday.
“They really don’t want me going out there and putting my body at risk,” said Butt. “I’m only at five months of recovery right now and that’s a high chance where it can re-tear. They are kind of being smart with me, so I’m learning what patience means right now.”
After senior linebacker Jake Ryan rehabbed his 2013 ACL injury in time to rejoin the Wolverines mid-season, Butt has a successful blueprint to follow as he inches towards recovery.
“It’s kind of been similar to Jake’s,” Butt said, “where we have a great staff here and the guy who did my surgery is one of the best in the world. All those things play a factor in it. I’m just kind of doing what they say, whether it’s balance work, whether it’s trying to get my strength back, agility… different running stuff. They’ve just kind of put together a plan and I’ve been following it so far.”
While Butt is doing his best to stay on schedule with his personalized rehab plan—which means not taking on too much physical strain too early—he is still limited in his participation during workouts. That includes defensive contact of any kind. It hasn’t been easy for him to take it slow.
“I am learning patience for the first time in my life,” he said. “I’m not a real patient guy. I’d love to be out there practicing with the guys right now. But [the trainers] are being smarter with it than I would be. I’m only five months right now, so I still have a good little bit before I can get in the swing of things.”
Although patience does not come naturally to Butt, he is doing his best to temper his own physical expectations—for now. He’ll be back at practice as soon as he is cleared for full contact. To get to that point, however, Butt has worked on maintaining an optimistic perspective through his physical trials and tribulations.
“I think I’ve done a good job of keeping a positive mentality and outlook,” he said. “That’s allowed me to come back pretty fast and have a quicker healing time than other people. The mental part—as long as you keep a positive outlook it will help you out. And with the physical part, that’s with our strength staff and training staff. They’ve done a good job helping out with that.”
Another significant factor in Butt’s positive mind frame through his struggle to recover was an experience he endured shortly after suffering his injury. It was one that helped remind the young athlete how fortunate he is.
“The first day I tore it I was feeling down about myself,” said Butt. “Then I went to go eat dinner at the commons and I saw a kid that was blind tapping his way through the hallways. It kind of put things in perspective—where even on your worst day, you still have it better than a lot of people. That has helped me keep a positive attitude going forward. These kind of injuries are tough, but I have a great team and great support behind me and that’s all been a helping factor.”
Through his absence, Michigan has worked on readying other members of the tight end unit, namely A.J. Williams and Keith Heitzman. By Butt’s estimation, these players will perform more than adequately in the meantime.
“I think we have a great group of guys,” Butt said of the tight end unit. “We all know the game, we all are physically ready to go in there, and we are all in here working hard. So I think it will be a good season for the group.”
As for the coaches who are helping prepare that tight end unit for the start of the season, Butt cites the role of new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and the effect he has had on the team thus far.
“He brings a different intensity to practice,” said Butt. “He demands the best out of everybody. If something isn’t done right we are going to look at it and make sure it’s fixed that day or that moment, and that’s big for us. Just footwork, fundamentals, making sure the quarterbacks are making the right reads, getting their eyes in the right place, making sure we are all running crisp routes, especially in walkthroughs.”
Butt can’t wait until he’s able to be out there running those crisp routes again in games later on this fall.