Heading into the 2014 season, Michigan Wolverines fans are ready for a new beginning after a gut-wrenching 7-6 showing last year. In total, 7 games came down to the final possession. It’s likely they see a big swing in performance. The talent is there to make a trip to Pasadena; will they?
Devin Gardner returns at quarterback. Clearly he needs to focus on leadership and decision-making. Reports from camp suggest he has. While backup Shane Morris has practiced well, this is Gardner’s job unless he pulls a Vince Young.
Former top rated recruit Derrick Green has been named the opening day starter at running back. Expect the aggressive De’Veon Smith to get plenty of carries this season. Shifty pass catcher Justice Hayes could figure in as a third down back. Joe Kerridge is expected to be the fullback.
Youth is still an issue for the offensive line as the Wolverines lose tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. Ben Braden and surprising true freshman Mason Cole will take over outside and those position battles appear settled. The interior line is unsettled, though Erik Magnuson seems to have a hold on the left guard position. Graham Glasgow returns at center, but he is suspended for week 1 and will be replaced by the undersized Jack Miller. Kyle Bosch, Kyle Kalis and Joe Burzynski battle at right guard. The line’s development may be the difference between 7 wins and 12 wins.
The other glaring question mark in Michigan’s offense is at wide receiver. After losing the always steady Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo, we can’t help but wonder who will step up behind Devin Funchess. True freshman Freddy Canteen was a leading candidate as he turned many heads in spring practice. However, Jehu Chesson gets the week 1 start opposite Funchess. Also keep an eye out for Amarah Darboh. Some compare his hands to Jason Avant.
Freshman sensation Jake Butt will miss the first month or so, but big blocking tight ends AJ Williams and Keith Heitzmann will hold down the fort. Khalid Hill may also see some action if Nussmeier wants some pass catching at the position.
Upon his arrival to Ann Arbor, coach Hoke’s first initiative was to bring back Michigan defense. He’s done that by bringing in All America talent. Over the past two years that young talent has played out of necessity. Now youth has become experience and adds to the strength of team 135. At this point, the defense is DEEP.
Senior defensive ends Brennan Beyer and Frank Clark have played extensively since joining Michigan as part of Brady Hokes first recruiting class in 2011. They look to provide leadership and stability up front. 6-6 end Taco Charlton should continue to see an expanded role in pass rushing situations. .
The interior of the defensive line is a question mark, as sophomores Willie Henry and, former walk-on, Ryan Glasgow sit atop the depth chart. Expect to see plenty of Matt Godin, Ondre Pipkins, Maurice Hurst and Chris Wormley throughout the season as well.
Leading playmaker Jake Ryan moves to middle linebacker while Joe Bolden, Desmond Morgan, Royce Jenkins-Stone and Biggs Ross focus on making plays on the outside. This unit is 2-3 deep across the board and coaches have hinted we should expect to see a lot of faces making a lot of plays.
Cornerback may be Michigan’s deepest position. Starters Blake Countess and Ray Taylor combined for interceptions last year and have been challenged by Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling and top recruit true freshman Jabrill Peppers. Michigan’s safety play last year was dreadful. Jarrod Wilson and Jeremy Clark are both long and have a tremendous range. It’s likely their burden will be reduced this year and it’ll be surprising if there isn’t a vast improvement this year.
Michigan’s kicking game is a HUGE question mark this season. Kicker Matt Wile and punter Will Hagerup are seniors, but they’ve had shaky careers. Wile has a strong leg, but he’s struggled with accuracy. Michigan fans know Hagerup is solid when he plays, but he has a knack for get suspended. The flashy Dennis Norfleet is back at kick returner while Peppers steps in at punt returner. Could we see multiple returns for touchdowns this year?
Michigan fans have a lot to be excited about this year. They finally have a ‘Michigan defense’ once again. Team 135 is destined for another bowl game. The question is; will it be in Pasadena or Florida? What do you think? Who is going to step up this year?