The recurring theme amongst the 2005 crop of pass-catchers in Ann Arbor seems to be, "the show will go on." The questions about how one of the best receivers in the history of Michigan football will be replaced have been frequent, but the players responsible for that completing task don't appear to be as concerned. In this month's issue of GoBlueWolverine the Magazine, both Jason Avant and Steve Breaston shed light on the still explosive potential of the Wolverine offense, even without Edwards on the flanks. When we spoke with Tim Massaquoi at the recent media day, he reiterated the very same thing.
"I expect us to not miss beat," Massaquoi said of the offense. "I expect us to be the team, offensively, that we could have been last year. With Braylon, we could have been a lot more effective. I think a lot of times we didn't take advantage of the opportunities we had. There were a lot of things that we missed on the field. I feel like this year, with Braylon being gone and all of the attention being off of him, other guys are starting to step up and play a more productive role."
According to Massaquoi, the key to making sure the offense is just as effective is making sure more playmakers touch the ball this season. "I think we can definitely spread the ball around more this year," he said. "It's just a matter of us (the receivers and tight ends) being in the right position. I think I could still have the same production, if not more. This offseason I tried to take my game to the next level. Not just catching the ball, but catching the ball and running after it by either making someone miss, or trying to run somebody over. At this point we feel that we could be so dangerous at the tight end position that teams will have to scout us to try to take us away. If they do that then it will leave Steve Breaston one-on-one. That's almost always a win. I think we can be a real powerful threat."
Much of the confidence the players have in the offense maintaining its high-powered ways stems from Chad Henne's improvement throughout last season…and his continued progress in the spring. "This spring he took more responsibility in checking all of his options," said Massaquoi. "He was hitting receivers, tight ends, and running backs out of the backfield. I think, mentally, he took his game to the next level this offseason. He worked out a lot of things that he didn't really focus on coming in his first year."
Michigan quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler gets a large amount of credit for Henne's quick transition into becoming a successful college starter. That said, there are others that had significant hands in that process as well, including the man that Henne replaced. "Matt (Gutierrez) is a real smart football player," Massaquoi said. "He can look at a defense and tell you what they're going to do before they do it. I think he has passed that knowledge on to Chad. We have the luxury of having two great quarterbacks. I hope, somehow, we can get them both on the field. I still think when people watch Matt play, they are going to be in awe of how talented he is. He came in and he had all of these expectations from everybody. Then he got hurt and he couldn't perform like he wanted to. I admire him for the way he handled everything. He didn't think about transferring. He just said he was going to stick it through, get through the injury, and try get back on the field. We're really good friends and I really look up to him for that."
Gutierrez wasn't the only Wolverine that drew high praise from Massaquoi. The former wideout found the dedication of the returning crew of receivers particularly impressive. "I've seen those guys take it personal," Massaquoi said regarding the approach Avant and Breaston have taken in the absence of Edwards. "They worked out so hard. I saw Jason and Steve out there everyday working on their routes, working on their releases, and working on catching the ball and running after it. I've seen them take it as a big challenge, and they've accepted it. They worked the whole offseason. I'm talking about every day. Sometimes it was 95 degrees. I was like, '95 degrees?! I'm working inside!' They were outside in the heat working. They would take a half an hour break, and then they were back out there again. They were just workaholics this summer."
While Breaston has made a name for himself nationally with his big plays both as a receiver and as a kick returner, Avant's real value is generally only realized in the Big Ten region. Massaquoi expects that to change in his fellow senior's final year donning the Maize and Blue. "A lot of people don't know that Jason is an incredible receiver," Massaquoi said. "He runs the best routes I've ever seen, pro or college. He can get open so quickly and I think he is really one of the more underrated players in this nation. You saw a couple of flashes of what he could do last year. I think this year he will have more opportunities to do it and he will show everybody that he is a great receiver."
If everything goes according to plan, there will be a number of Michigan pass-catchers displaying greatness this season.
Look for even more on Tim Massaquoi's individual journey in an upcoming issue of GoBlueWolverine the Magazine.