How the Addition of Jim McElwain is Helping Michigan's Wideouts

How the Addition of Jim McElwain is Helping Michigan's Wideouts

Football

How the Addition of Jim McElwain is Helping Michigan's Wideouts

ANN ARBOR, Mich — All eyes might be on Michigan’s quarterback competition and who will start at the offensive tackle positions, but there’s another position on the offensive side of the ball that should be very intriguing heading into Sept. 1.

Buried in the aforementioned battles is the wide receiver position, which is led, not only by a new position coach, as the NCAA allowed a tenth assistant to be hired this offseason, but by a veritable superstar at the assistant level.

Jim McElwain may be noted more recently for his head coaching job at Florida — for which he often gets panned, despite leading the Gators to back-to-back SEC East titles in his first two seasons. But, before he took over the job in Gainesville, McElwain turned moribund Colorado State around, and oversaw Alabama’s national championship offense.

McElwain has a long track record of success at pretty much every stop, which has ranged from being a position coach in the college and NFL, to being an offensive coordinator and head coach.

Now in Ann Arbor, the 56 year old is overseeing just one position group — the wide receivers — and has brought a certain level of competition that didn’t exist before on the team.

That is, he and cornerbacks coach Mike Zordich are really going at it as much as the two can in an iron sharpens iron sort of way.

“From spring until now, (the wideouts) have gotten better,” Zordich said. “We work together quite a bit. Coach Mac and I get together quite a bit now, so it’s good. It’s really good – we’re going, in a lot of non-competitive situations in practice, we get together and we go competitive. It’s really good for us and good for them as well.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by one of McElwain’s directly coached players.

Grant Perry is entering into his fourth and final season with the Wolverines, and he says that McElwain has been a huge asset to a group that didn’t have a direct coach before.

Now that Coach Mac is leading the charge, Perry says he and his teammates are clearly taking their games to another level.

“We’ve definitely made strides in the playbook,” Perry said. “Guys are more confident, playing all around the field. Not just playing one position. Coach McElwain has instilled a lot of good tutelage that he’s brought along. So he’s taught us some things we didn’t know – just some simple things that we were overlooking. The camaraderie in the receiver room has definitely improved as well.”

Camaraderie aside, how have they gotten better?

It’s not just getting off jams at the line of scrimmage — an issue that often plagued Michigan’s true freshman receivers a year ago. Perry says that everything has essentially been simplified, from the standpoint that the receivers aren’t worrying about putting the offense on their shoulders as much as they were a year ago.

Now, especially with the knowledge of what they can do to get themselves open, they are armed with a certain level of confidence that they didn’t have last season.

“Guys are just so focused on making a big play that we miss a block or run the right route at the right depth, and not worry about what the DB is doing,” Perry said. “We’re just slowing down, we’re playing our game. It’s looking good on film.”

Perry, for one, is happy that McElwain is on board.

Not only is it good for him and his unit that he brings a certain level of experience and expertise. But, before McElwain arrived, Michigan had to rely on Pep Hamilton — who oversees the entire passing game, including the quarterbacks — and a grad assistant in Joe Hastings, who is now coaching wide receivers full time with Indiana State.

Having a dedicated coach who knows what he’s doing is paying early dividends, Perry says.

“Coach Mac is an older coach,” Perry noted. “Last year, we had Coach Pep who was also working with quarterbacks and we had Hastings, a younger guy. This year, it’s definitely nice to have someone who’s been around and has coached some really touted receivers around the country who have played in the NFL now. He definitely knows what he’s talking about, and it’s paying off for us.”

But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been growing pains every now and again.

Perry shared how there have been some (lighthearted) moments where McElwain — who is on his fourth stop since 2011 — has some moments where he gets lost in his own former terminology.

“The playbook didn’t really change when he came in,” “We kept the same stuff we’ve been running since the spring. He’s had his own personal trouble remembering what our plays are versus some old plays he’s had at different places. ‘Ah, darn it! That’s from the last place!’

“It’s not that bad.”

But it isn’t just McElwain who’s helping the receivers get better.

When Hastings went to Indiana State, a familiar name who was the wide receivers coach the past two years for the Sycamores made his way back home to Ann Arbor.

Roy Roundtree has made some spectacular catches for the Wolverines during his tenure, including the 2011 game-winner against Notre Dame. He knows what it takes to play wideout for the maize and blue, and Perry says that his group is able to learn from him as well.

And it certainly helps that he’s only a few years removed from his playing days for the Wolverines.

“Having Roundtree’s a real help,” Perry said. “He’s a guy that’s a legend against Notre Dame, so he knows what to do and how to do it. We’ve been watching some of his film, and he just gives us pointers that we want to see what he sees. It’s nice to have a young coach as well as an older coach – somebody you can relate to a bit more, that’s played them recently, and went up against the same type of competition that you had.”

We’ll see in earnest how much Michigan’s wide receivers have improved, with the Wolverines taking on Notre Dame in South Bend on Sept. 1 with a 7:30PM kickoff.

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