ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Sean McKeon knows that he fits somewhere into Michigan’s tight end rotation. Exactly where? Well, that remains to be seen for the 6-foot-5, 250-pound sophomore who runs alongside Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. — a preseason Mackey candidate — and several other potential starters.
With that said, McKeon he likes what he has done through the first three weeks of practice with the Wolverines.
“Yeah, definitely, I’m really pleased. You know, I come out every day and try to get better as a tight end — and as a position group with all the tight ends — so all of us attack every day, trying to get better,” said McKeon, who lives by a motto of “try to make your weaknesses your strength.”
Initially, McKeon (pronounced Mc-KEWN) thought he needed to amp up his route-running skills because he didn’t do much of it in high school. But he has refined that aspect of his game and become a more complete tight end by improving his blocking technique.
To be ready when it’s time, regardless if he’s the starter or a secondary option. Since the arrival of coach Jim Harbaugh on Dec. 30, 2014, Michigan has placed a renewed emphasis on power football, including, particularly, the expedited development of tight ends.
With that said, catching the ball is just a small drop in the bucket. There is much, much more to the position than simply reeling in passes from quarterbacks.
WATCH: McKeon chats with beat writers at 14:30
“In the tight end group, we strive to be the most reliable, trustworthy group on the team — a group that the QBs and the line can depend on to block, catch balls … so we want to do it all,” said McKeon, who played in four games as a true freshman in 2016, debuting against Hawaii with two catches for 10 yards.
“I mean, we want to run great routes, catch balls and we want to get into the run-game and, you know, pancake guys. But I just feel like our group is really coming along this year and we’re going to have a great year.”
Michigan’s TE group is stacked. Big and stacked.
Want proof? Take a look at Wheatley Jr., a 6-6, 276-pound preseason Mackey Award watch list member. Wheatley Jr. could be in line for a massive leap this season.
There is more than Wheatley Jr., though.
The Wolverines also have redshirt sophomore Zach Gentry, a 6-7, 244-pounder who made seven appearances in 2016; sophomore Nick Eubanks, a 6-5, 236-pounder who played during the opener vs. Hawaii; and Ian Bunting, a 6-7, 252-pound redshirt sophomore who has made 23 appearances in two seasons.
They’re well-rounded, to say the least.
“I think we are all great tight ends. You know, we’ve all been working hard this year to improve. TJ, he’s a great run-blocker, but he’s deceptively fast — so, you know, he runs great routes too,” McKeon said. “Zach (Gentry) and Nick (Eubanks), they’re really fast and they can blow right by defenders. Ian (Bunting) is also a great run-blocker; he runs great routes. I think we’re all really working to get that starting job, and to try to contribute where we can on the offense.”
Upon signing with Michigan in 2016, McKeon — who had the highest GPA of the 26-man class (those who enrolled) — was coached by Jay Harbaugh, who has transitioned to a running backs coach. Jedd Fisch was the offensive coordinator during that time, too. Despite some movement, the swaps have been “clean” and comfortable.
The addition of Greg Frey, who coaches tight ends and tackles (in addition to serving as the run-game coordinator), and passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton have added a new dimension to the offense, which excites all involved.
More three-tight-end sets? Other special packages?
All of that could be possible in 2017.
Other than learning Hamilton’s lingo, everything has been smooth for McKeon and his teammates.
“Coach Pep is a great coach. He brought in some … he changed a lot of the terms in the passing game, so that was a little bit of a switch,” McKeon said. “But that’s what the spring was for — was to learn those terms and get used to his style of offense, and I think it’s really beneficial for us and it’s been a great switch.”