Script by Inside The Huddle.
When I spoke to tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh at Michigan Media Day Sunday, I wondered if he and senior Jake Butt talk about the fact that by year’s end Butt should be the most accomplished tight end in program history, passing Jim Mandich.
Harbaugh acknowledged that the conversation had come up. But just once. Every other conversation the two have had has focused on the success of the team, the team, the team. Butt wants to win a Big Ten title. He wants to compete for a college football playoff berth, whether that means he has 50 catches this season or five.
But place your bets on the former.
Last season as a junior, Butt came close to setting single-season records at Michigan – his 51 catches second only to Bennie Joppru’s 53 grabs by a tight end in 2002, and his 654 yards receiving second behind Mandich’s 662 in 1969 (editor’s note, I don’t include Devin Funchess’ marks in 2013 because he played wide receiver in U-M’s final eight games).
With that success, and modest numbers his first two years, the 6-6, 250-pound Butt finds himself within 28 catches of the all-time tight end career mark of 120 in that category and 409 yards receiving of taking over the top spot in that category, wrestling those marks away from Mandich.
Butt would need to tie the single-season mark of eight touchdowns by a tight end, held by Eric Kattus in 1985, to match Jerame Tuman for career TD receptions by a tight end, with 15, but never say never.
Butt has been compared to Joppru and Mandich, but it’s Tuman that makes the most sense for the simple reason that both players served as de facto oversized wide receivers.
The 6-5, 249-pound Tuman, in fact, had more receptions from 1995-98 (98 career catches) than all but one Wolverine target, receiver Tai Streets, who had 144 receptions over the same time span.
Tuman burst onto the scene in 1996 as a redshirt sophomore, with a career high 33 grabs for 524 yards and five scores. Despite that success, opponents would still lose track of the native Kansan when Michigan ran its famous tight end waggle, Tuman going for five touchdowns in 1997, scoring on a 23-yard waggle in the 1998 Rose Bowl win over Washington State that earned the Maize and Blue a national championship.
Butt doesn’t have just one play that is synonymous with the tight end like Tuman did, catching balls up the seam, on short hook patterns, jump balls, and even on screens, as he demonstrated against Maryland last season on a 44-yard play.
Like Tuman, Butt has outstanding athleticism for the position, but what truly stands out about both players is their ability to make the big play. Butt had critical touchdown catches against Indiana and Penn State in 2015 and was already demonstrating his knack for being there when it counted with an overtime touchdown catch in a 2013 win over Northwestern.
Though Michigan expects to have greater options at tight end this season, Butt should challenge Joppru’s single-season mark for receptions and could shatter the mark as he seeks to become the first tight end in program history with 60 catches in a single campaign.