Michigan Wolverines: Jeff Hecklinski

Jeremy GallonAndrew Weber/US PressiwireJeremy Gallon will try to become the 10th Michigan receiver to reach 1,000 yards in a season.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Jeremy Gallon brushed the question off, the entire premise actually. He insisted a 1,000-yard season would not be a big deal for him.

He focused his answers on what he could do for Michigan’s team, about helping the younger receivers the way Junior Hemingway and Roy Roundtree assisted him when he was a freshman.

Eventually, he couldn’t hold it in any more. Yeah, hitting 1,000 yards receiving in his final season at Michigan would mean something to him.

“It’ll mean a lot, but it’s just me wanting to come out and do whatever for my team,” Gallon said. “Stats and me catching the ball are the least of my concerns at this point.”

Fair, except he is the only one who believes it. His position coach, Jeff Hecklinski, publicly said it is a goal Gallon should shoot for. His former teammate, Roundtree, started pestering Gallon about 1,000 yards before last season even ended.

Michigan wide receivers know the importance of a four-digit season.

“A thousand yards is a big deal for anyone,” senior receiver Drew Dileo said. “It’s a big deal for Junior Hemingway, Roy Roundtree, Braylon Edwards.”

It is a big enough thing for the Wolverines that two of those guys -- Hemingway and Roundtree -- never got there. Edwards is one of two Michigan receivers, along with David Terrell, to have more than one 1,000-yard season. Edwards is also the single-season receiving yards holder, with 1,330.

The 1,000-yard receiving mark is an elusive one at Michigan despite the school's litany of big-name receivers. In school history, there have only been 12 1,000-yard seasons, spread among nine players.

Gallon is attempting to become the 10th. The good news for him if he does: The other nine all had at least brief careers in the NFL. The bad news: Other than Desmond Howard, all were prototypical professional receivers when it came to size.

Gallon, a fifth-year senior, was almost an afterthought in his first two seasons at Michigan. The change in coaching staff from Rich Rodriguez, who recruited him, to Brady Hoke could have been problematic. Hoke and his staff wanted to move to a pro-style offense featuring the big, tall receivers Michigan traditionally featured.

The 5-foot-8 Gallon is not that, and he easily could have been dismissed as another small receiver the staff was unsure of what to do with. Instead, he has the potential to turn into one of the top receivers in school history.

If that 1,000-yard season happens, he’ll finish his career in the top five in career receiving yards at Michigan. Depending how many catches it takes, he could end up in the top 10 in receptions, too.

“It’s a realistic benchmark for him,” Michigan receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski said. “If he reaches that plateau, then we’re moving the ball and we’re doing good things offensively. If he doesn’t reach that plateau, then we are probably struggling.

“I think it’s a good benchmark for us, too, because he is a guy on the outside that we need to make plays.”

In the past five seasons at Michigan this has never been an emphasis. It has been the read option or the reflexive reliance on Denard Robinson’s legs that has provided the offensive impetus for Michigan.

With Robinson gone and Michigan moving to a pro-style offense in which play action and downfield passing will be featured, Gallon’s role becomes more important.

The last Michigan receiver to gain 1,000 yards was Mario Manningham in 2007 (1,174).

Since then, Roundtree came the closest with 935 yards in 2010.

“For a personal goal for him [Gallon], I think he’s saying Michigan is used to having thousand-yard receivers and guys who are used to making plays like that,” Hecklinski said. “I think he’s seeing that as his goal, that he is having the opportunity to put himself in the same conversation as some of those guys.

“There are some huge names in there.”
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Last winter quarterback Devin Gardner tweeted an image of a reaching, one-handed catch by then-freshman wide receiver Amara Darboh. Though Darboh had never caught a pass during the season, his reputation spiked and fans wondered if he could be a Roy Roundtree-like receiver for Gardner.

But Darboh isn’t the only receiver in his class who should be receiving hype. Jehu Chesson redshirted last year, but his physical ability, coupled with the fact he did in fact redshirt, have made him a player to watch this year.

“Jehu has learned the game of football a lot more now,” wide receiver coach Jeff Hecklinski said. “I think he’s settled down. I think he’s nice and relaxed now. He’s a great kid, you can’t ask for a better kid. … He’s understanding more what it takes to play and all the little details that it takes to play.”
Devin GardnerAP Photo/Carlos OsorioFor Michigan to have success, it needs junior quarterback Devin Gardner to stay healthy and make plays because the depth chart behind him is a bit scary.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Meet Devin Gardner. No. Seriously. You should. And if you like Michigan, you really should look into protecting him as much as possible in every situation imaginable.

The one non-negotiable thing about Michigan’s season is if Gardner is hurt for any length of time, the Wolverines’ chances of winning any of those games almost disappears. Any Michigan offense without Gardner this season would be an adventure in experimentation at best.

So go buy some bubble wrap, pad the walls of his apartment or whatever else you want to make sure a random tree branch doesn't fell him. Michigan’s players, though, realize they can’t stop a random injury from occurring. They have enough faith Gardner can take care of himself.

“Random, freak injury, you can’t really control that,” senior receiver Drew Dileo said. “We look out for each other but if Devin rolls his ankle on a little bitty rock, I can’t control that. And vice versa.

“If I slip on the ice in the snow, I can’t control that.”

In other words, there won’t be an entourage accompanying Gardner to any of his graduate school classes this semester -- at least not for protective purposes.

Michigan can control how it uses Gardner during practices in the preseason. While the Wolverines aren’t isolating their starting quarterback or keeping him from making plays -- the repititions are too important for what he and Michigan hope to do this season -- having no healthy backup quarterback with even one snap of experience means more early practice snaps for freshman Shane Morris and redshirt freshman walk-on Brian Cleary.

It also keeps Gardner safe on the sideline.

Gardner might not be the most polished quarterback in the Big Ten or the most talented player on his own team -- that is left tackle Taylor Lewan. That lack of depth behind him, though, makes him more critical than any other player.

“He’s an important factor to the offense here,” senior receiver Jeremy Gallon said. “He has to set a tempo. He will set a tempo. His demeanor to the game is very important to us. How he comes out and performs and he’s willing to work hard for the team.

“That’s very important.”

Equally important is the lack of depth behind Gardner, which is why he is the most important player to stay healthy in the entire Big Ten. One could argue Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, but the Buckeyes have an experienced, serviceable backup in senior Kenny Guiton. But for what Michigan wants to do this season, it is Gardner -- and then a shoulder shrug of what would happen if he weren’t in the game.

So keeping Gardner upright and healthy is of supreme importance in Ann Arbor.

“That’s pretty obvious. I think that’s pretty self-explanatory,” Michigan receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski said. “Obviously we need to keep Devin healthy and that falls on all of us. Not just the offensive line, but the tight ends and wideouts getting open down the field in time so he doesn’t have to hold the ball and the running backs protecting him.”

The coaching staff doesn’t want to limit Gardner’s progress, though. If they start to have him lighten up in practice, it becomes almost an omen setting Gardner up for injury because they believe players are injured when they aren’t going hard enough and are concerned about it.

Gardner isn’t worried. He just keeps playing as he always has.

“I’m the same person on the field, practicing as hard as I can,” Gardner said. “Taylor [Lewan] sometimes tells me not to make certain cuts, but that’s just the way I play. You can’t get ready for the game unless you play the full speed, the way you’re going to play.”

Other than Lewan, Gardner said the only one who told him to maybe take it a little easy was Michigan’s strength and conditioning coach, Aaron Wellman.

Everyone else? They just want Gardner to play like he did over the final five games of last season, or even an improved version of that player. Keeping Gardner healthy does add a small amount of pressure, especially for those entrusted with protecting him.

“We have to make sure we are on our game with that pass protection-wise,” senior right tackle Michael Schofield said. “We don’t really verbalize it. That’s just kind of known.”

One day Morris or Cleary could end up as a good starting quarterback for Michigan. But for this season, the Wolverines have only one healthy non-freshman scholarship quarterback. They only have one quarterback who has any game experience. One quarterback who is designated and looked to as a leader.

That’s Devin Gardner. Michigan’s season rests on his health.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Every Michigan offensive play has a little bit of magic to it. Seriously. Not Criss Angel stuff. Something more intricate.

Try the sleight of route.

In his third year as Michigan’s wide receivers coach, Jeff Hecklinski teaches all of his receivers to leave the line of scrimmage the same no matter the play. Run? Pass? Doesn’t matter. Make like you are running a route.

Try, actually, to go deep. Be so precise, so similar, opposing corners and safeties are unsure of what is coming. Get them to start backpedaling or, better still, turn to cover a deep route.

Then, Michigan’s receivers know they have accomplished exactly what they needed.

[+] EnlargeDrew Dileo, Jeremy Gallon
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireMichigan wide receivers Drew Dileo (26) and Jeremy Gallon (10) are hoping more end-zone celebrations will result from blocking for each other this fall.
The importance of this will only increase for Michigan as its offensive philosophy shifts to a pro-style offense predicated on the success of play-action sells from the quarterback and receivers.

Opponents have noticed the blocking. Defensive backs understand facing Michigan’s receivers will be tougher. Not because of their skills, but because of what they do without the ball.

“They act as if they are more excited to block than they are to catch a pass,” Minnesota safety Brock Vereen said. “Sadly, I’m not even exaggerating.”

This starts in the preseason, when Hecklinski has 15 minutes daily to work with his receivers. Half of each session, his receivers will not touch a ball.

Instead, he will motion to the usual offensive linemen tool, the five-man sled. Most college receivers know how to catch. Many run crisp routes. At Michigan, blocking passes all of that.

Blocking at Michigan, Hecklinski explains, is the easiest path to playing.

“We’ll do some two-man sled work, do some five-man sleds, hit some bags,” Hecklinski said. “A lot of the same things the offensive line does. The offensive line, they train to block every day. We can incorporate those drills into the stuff we do.”

Hecklinski rarely sees live what he teaches accomplished in games. Perched in the coaches’ box, his in-game job is to watch the interior of the offensive line against the linebackers, so he only knows the exploits of his receivers when they tell him on the headset between series. They’ll celebrate pancaking a cornerback or hitting their general goal of combined double-digit knockdowns every game.

Hecklinski reviews receiver tape the next day. Based on what he watches -- and how beat up his players are -- he’ll taper the blocking work back to one session a week as long as the results are showing up in games.

By then, Hecklinski’s message reached his players.

“A lot of wide receivers won’t use all that energy,” Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen said. “Like if it is a running play to the other side, why do I need to run full speed? Why do I need to go cut this safety off? People like Denard [Robinson] was probably very happy he had receivers like Roy Roundtree and [Jeremy] Gallon last year. He got 50- and 60-yard runs because the corners were never able to go in on the run.”

Hecklinski’s blocking mantra, always based on hitting hard, evolved as he moved with Brady Hoke from Ball State to San Diego State and then to Michigan. At Ball State, he said, he used to teach his receivers to cut block consistently.

Hecklinski removed cut blocking upon arrival at Michigan for two reasons. First, a shift in blocking rules in college football made cut blocking a riskier choice with penalties. The second dealt with the ability of the defensive backs his receivers faced.

This began at Ball State and became clearer when the staff put together in the MAC and Mountain West reached the Big Ten.

“They are like those Weeble Wobbles that you had growing up,” Hecklinski said. “You can throw a great cut and he’s right back up making a play and golly, that’s a great cut.

“You got him down, took his legs out and then he pops back up it’s a three-yard gain. So we took all cut blocking out of it.”

Now, he wants his players to act as boxers on the perimeter. He uses analogies to other sports but this is a favorite. He wants his receivers to treat each play as a mini-boxing match.

“I’m going to try and throw my right uppercut as hard as I can and we’re going for the knockout punch every time,” Hecklinski said. “I’m trying to Mike Tyson you in the first round.”

Start with an initial rope-a-dope. Hit as hard as you can. Try to run through the chest or shoulders of a defensive back. Blow him up. Knock him down.

It’s simple, really. If Michigan is successful, what starts at deception fast turns into big-play blocking devastation.
Braylon EdwardsTom Pidgeon/Getty ImagesBraylon Edwards in 2003-04 was the last Michigan receiver to wear the No. 1 jersey.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- At some point in the future, a Michigan wide receiver will wear the famed No. 1 jersey.

The question now is when.

“Eventually, someone is going to wear the No. 1,” Michigan receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski told ESPN.com this week. “I don’t know who it is going to be, because somebody has to be good enough and earn it that way.

“But again, eventually, that’s going to happen at some point in time.”

Hecklinski was quick to add he did not know if that would happen this season, next season or at a point beyond that. The No. 1 jersey has not been worn by a Michigan receiver since Braylon Edwards wore the number in 2003 and 2004.

In all, six Michigan receivers have worn the number: Anthony Carter (1979-1982), Greg McMurtry (1986-1989), Derrick Alexander (1990-1993), Tyrone Butterfield (1994-1996), David Terrell (1998-2000) and Edwards.

All but Butterfield played in the NFL.

“When you get it, there’s a certain thing that goes with it,” Terrell said. “Now adding all that extra stuff into it, it wore it down, man. Now, let’s see what happens. If they go and do it, they know the ones. Coaches know. Lloyd (Carr) picked me for it. I don’t think they were wrong.

“They know how to pick things. These people know what their job is.”

[+] EnlargeJeremy Gallon
Jesse Johnson/US PresswireJeremy Gallon is the best receiver on the current Wolverines roster. Could he switch numbers?
Hecklinski, though, said the No. 1 jersey isn’t something that will be promised during recruiting.

“It’s earned,” Hecklinski said of the jersey. “I don’t control that. Coach (Brady) Hoke doesn’t control that. You’ve got to earn that. Your play dictates that. Coach Hoke has a say on it, but he doesn’t say, ‘Oh, I think this could happen or think that could happen.’

“We just watch you play. It’s the same thing when people say is a kid going to redshirt? We don’t determine that. If he’s ready to play, he’s going to play. If he’s not ready to play, he’s going to redshirt. So that’s where I think, there are things that are earned throughout your career. Those are goals you should have.”

Between its current roster and recruiting, Michigan has several viable candidates for whenever the school chooses to dust off the No. 1.

Senior Jeremy Gallon is one of the best blocking receivers in the Big Ten and has the potential for a 1,000-yard season this year. In its 2014 recruiting class, Michigan has a commitment from the No. 8 wide receiver and No. 72 overall prospect, Drake Harris (Grand Rapids, Mich./Grand Rapids Christian). In the 2015 class, the No. 1 athlete and No. 3 player overall in the ESPN Junior 300, George Campbell (Tarpon Springs, Fla./ East Lake), has also verbally chosen the Wolverines.
Ohio State already had started paying more competitive salaries for assistant coaches before Urban Meyer arrived in November 2011.

But when Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith sat down to discuss staff pay, Smith soon realized he needed to do more.

"I think Michigan had stepped up with their coordinators," Smith recalled last week during Big Ten spring meetings in Chicago. "So we were already going to that before Urban Meyer came, but we bumped it up a little more. Any time there's change, you have that opportunity."

[+] EnlargeGreg Mattison
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIMichigan DC Greg Mattison ranks as the highest-paid assistant coach in the Big Ten for the 2013 season.
"Everyone's always focused on head coaches' salaries," Smith continued. "That's always the thing. But really when you look at the changes, it's really been assistants' salaries across the country -- not just in the SEC, but the Big 12, Pac-12, all across the country."

The Big Ten is part of the change, too, as the league is allocating more money toward football assistants than ever before. The Detroit Free Press has an excellent look at Big Ten assistants' salaries, complete with a database that includes 10 of the 12 current members (Northwestern doesn't submit salaries as a private institution, and Penn State doesn't have to because of state laws).

The Free Press found that eight of the 10 schools are paying more for assistants in 2013 than they did in 2012 (only Indiana and Illinois are not). There are some significant total increases, such as Wisconsin (up $558,000), Nebraska (up $518,500), Purdue ($400,000) and Minnesota ($355,000). Staff pay had been an issue at Wisconsin, which lost six assistant coaches following the 2012 Rose Bowl, and at Purdue, which paid less for its staff during the Danny Hope era than any Big Ten school.

The total trend among the 10 schools is an increase of $1,720,852.24 for 2013.

Ohio State and Michigan remain No. 1 and No. 2 in Big Ten staff salary, as the Buckeyes allocate $3.416 million and the Wolverines allocate $2.805 million. Nebraska and Wisconsin make the biggest moves in the league for 2013, as the Huskers rise from sixth to third and the Badgers rise from seventh to fourth.

Illinois, which replaced five assistants from the 2012 team, including co-offensive coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales, dropped from third in staff pay ($2.314 million) to eighth ($2.065 million).

The database shows that nearly every Big Ten assistant with "coordinator" in his title -- whether he's the sole coordinator or a co-coordinator -- will earn north of $300,000 for 2013. Only 18 assistants listed will make less than $200,000 in 2013 -- 15 work for Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue and Indiana.


Some notes:

  • Although Wisconsin paid former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst good coin, the school has increased its commitment for Gary Andersen's staff, not only with the coordinators but with some coveted position coaches like running backs coach Thomas Hammock ($300,000).
  • All of Nebraska's assistants are earning $200,000 or more for 2013, but there's a huge drop-off between Beck and the next highest-paid assistant (defensive coordinator John Papuchis at $310,000).
  • Michigan State has a similar drop off between Narduzzi and co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner ($270,000) and Jim Bollman ($260,000). Warner will be the primary offensive play-caller and has been on Mark Dantonio's staff since 2006, while Bollman is a newcomer.
  • Although Michigan is paying top dollar for its coordinators, the school gets its assistants for a relative bargain. Receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Jeff Hecklinski will earn $225,000 in 2013, while the others all will earn $205,000. Ohio State, meanwhile, pays all but one of its assistants $286,000 or more.
  • The Big Ten's three lowest-paid assistants all are in their first years: Illinois wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy ($125,000) and Purdue linebackers coach Marcus Freeman and running backs coach Jafar Williams (both at $120,000).
  • Although schools like Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa ($325,000) pay their coordinators the exact same amount, others have slight differences in salary. Purdue's Shoop makes $5,000 more than defensive coordinator Greg Hudson. Minnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys ($340,000) makes $5,000 more than offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover. Wonder if that leads to any underlying jealousy?
  • Most Big Ten schools have assistant salaries in round numbers, but there are some interesting totals from Indiana, which pays co-offensive coordinators Seth Littrell and Kevin Johns $255,500.04 and new recruiting coordinator/assistant defensive line coach James Patton $173,740.08. Never know when that change can come in handy.

The Big Ten still lacks some of the OMG totals seen in the SEC -- LSU is paying new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron $3.4 million in the next three years -- but the overall trend puts the league more on par with what we're seeing nationally.

Grand Rapids duo takes in IU game 

March, 11, 2013
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- From a basketball perspective, Sunday was not a great day for Michigan. With its one-point loss to Indiana, the Wolverines will head into the Big Ten tournament with the No. 5 seed without any share of the Big Ten title.

But from a football recruiting perspective, the day was a success. Michigan was able to secure visits from two Grand Rapids Christian (Mich.) High School prospects -- Watch List wide receiver Drake Harris and offensive lineman Tommy Doles.


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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- With defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery leaving the Michigan staff for a job at Oklahoma, the Wolverines will have some scrambling to do this offseason as they look for a replacement.


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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- There’s no way to look at Michigan’s 2013 class and not believe Brady Hoke when he says he’s putting an emphasis up front.

Not only is it impressive that the Wolverines were able to pull in six offensive line signees, each is big and physical (averaging 6-foot-5, 295 pounds).

“It was very important for us to establish guys who can play at the line of scrimmage the way we want to play Michigan football,” Hoke said. “For the style of football we need to play, I think that was important.”

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It won’t be too much of a departure for several fans when they see the name “Wangler” on a Michigan uniform this fall.


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Denard RobinsonSandra Dukes/US PresswireImproved focus from the offensive line helped Denard Robinson rush for 235 yards against Purdue.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The week heading into the Wolverines' matchup with Purdue was one of the most memorable for offensive coordinator Al Borges.

"We had our three best practices maybe since I've been here, but certainly this season," Borges said. "So much of that tone was set by [the offensive linemen]."

It was the O-line position group that was called out during halftime of the Notre Dame game and told the final two quarters would rest on its shoulders. In that matchup the group missed more than 20 assignments and came into the following two weeks with a renewed focus. And because of that focus, they brought Borges and the rest of the offense the three best practices this season, which led a surprising rout of the Boilermakers.

"I love linemen because they're realists," Borges said. "They know you're only as good as your last performance and they're going to have to work hard."

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Devin Gardner adjusts to dual role 

August, 12, 2012
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Devin Gardner's athleticism is what helped him become rated one of the nation's top high school quarterbacks in 2010. But for three years, the once-stud Gardner has played second fiddle at quarterback to a player just as athletic: Denard Robinson.

And now, to make the situation even more unique, Gardner has been taking snaps at wide receiver with the Michigan football team, catching passes from the player he once stood behind on the depth chart.

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDevin Gardner figures to be on the receiving end more than the passing end this season.
"I'm just doing whatever it takes to help the team win," Gardner said. "If that's where the coaches feel I can help at here and there, I'll do it."

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With the early success in the 2013 recruiting class, the Michigan football staff has had the opportunity to put out more offers in the 2014 class. One area on which it has focused its efforts in is the secondary, where they've already handed out five offers.

Cornerback Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook) is one of the players whom the Wolverines keyed in on early. The 6-foot, 180-pound Westphal has already picked up 11 offers, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida and Notre Dame.

Westphal started as a freshman on the Bolingbrook varsity squad, but coach John Ivlow knew about the talented youngster long before that.

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WR Laquon Treadwell update 

March, 20, 2012
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Laquon Treadwell (Crete, Ill./Crete-Monee) is one of the top 2013 wide receivers in the country. He boasts offers from Alabama, Auburn, Oklahoma and Michigan, among others. For many of the schools looking at him, he has met the coaching staff, met the players and been to games, but what he's really looking forward to now is seeing spring practices.

"It's a big factor," Treadwell said. "You can learn a lot from practice. If practice isn't really intense and they don't push themselves then that's probably not the school I want to go to."

Even though Treadwell already has visited Ann Arbor four times, he will make his fifth visit during the first week in April to see a spring practice.

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