In his first public comments as Michigan's new passing game coordinator, Pep Hamilton said his goal is to help quarterback Wilton Speight pick up where he left off in 2016. Speight might be the only thing that looks familiar about the Wolverines' offense through the air in the fall.
A new generation of receiving targets officially arrived in Ann Arbor Wednesday. They might be young, but Speight and Hamilton should have plenty of talent on hand. Michigan stocked its shelves with five new wide receivers in this year's signing class -- arguably the deepest and most talented group of pass-catching prospects in the nation this year.
"Our mindset," four-star recruit Tarik Black said Wednesday afternoon, "is just to come in every day and work our tails off and do every we can to get on the field early."
Black and his fellow new receivers all ranked within the top 60 receivers in the country as high school seniors, according to ESPN's rankings. He and fellow early enrollee Donovan Peoples-Jones were the most touted of the pack. Both of them were ranked as the top player in their respective state (Black is from Connecticut and Peoples-Jones is from Michigan) regardless of position.
They'll be joined this summer by four-star Iowa native Oliver Martin and Alabama native Nico Collins, who was the final player to announce his commitment to play for the Wolverines on Wednesday afternoon. New Jersey native Brad Hawkins committed to Michigan a year ago before deciding to spend a year at prep school to improve his grades. He'll also be part of the freshman class in 2017.
"It's a very dynamic group," head coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Wonderful guys, really talented people."
Add in Eddie McDoom and Kekoa Crawford, who both played small roles in the Michigan offense as true freshmen this past season, and the Wolverines are left with seven underclassmen that bring a new level of speed and playmaking ability to the wide receiver position.
"I think we'll be a deep group," Black said. "I think we'll do a great job working together. I see all of us playing."
They will all certainly have the opportunity. Michigan’s top three receivers from the previous two seasons -- Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson and Jake Butt -- are all out of eligibility. All three are likely to be selected in this spring's NFL draft, leaving a wide-open depth chart with big shoes to fills on the edges of the offense. Only one returning wide receiver, Grant Perry, made more than 10 catches in 2016, and he is currently suspended from the team while going through the legal process of a sexual assault charge.
Black and Peoples-Jones both said that the opportunity to make an impact during the first season was a major selling point during the recruiting process. Enrolling in January will give them a jump start during spring practice and help them compete with McDoom, Crawford and a handful of upperclassmen who have a chance to win a job in the regular rotation.
Hamilton said during Wednesday's two-hour "Signing of the Stars" presentation that he wants the new receivers to learn all three positions in Michigan's offense rather than specializing at one spot.
Michigan's offensive identity next fall might depend on how quickly some of the young receivers can learn the playbook and adjust to the college level. With three starting offensive linemen to replace and an experienced quarterback returning, the Wolverines might find themselves putting the ball in the air and attempting to get it to their perimeter players frequently if they prove they can be trusted to make plays.