The pat answer of course is “football experience”. These Wolverines are lacking in football experience offensively, defensively, and on special teams. Among other things, M has to replace at least three of the starters on the offensive line that often graded out as pedestrian.
Also, they must develop defensive depth on what was a great defensive line last year. They have only one starter returning defensively. Linebackers, corners, and safeties are a concern due to lack of seasoning. Special teams will be missing last year’s punting and kicking all everything, Kenny Allen.
OFFENSIVE CONCERNS: Last season’s offensive line wasn’t always up to par as a unit against better M opponents, and sometimes below, particularly in the three losses in four games that finished the season. They played hard, gave it their all, but couldn’t always produce results when it counted, and those three losses spoiled many of M’s dreams for the season. This should leave them hungry.
The run game has been problematic for some time. It is past time for that era to end. A significant part of that is because of poor line play sometimes causing erratic pass protection. Once in a while, it seemed appropriate to question play calling in the run game, or at least personnel, when Evans was sitting while the run game sputtered.
The sometimes iffy run game scenario needs to be history-permanently.
Now it is time to move on to estimating this year’s fortunes. At this very early point in time, guestimates will have to suffice, regardless of the prognosticator, but it seems to me the establishment of a reliable and consistent running game, and establishment of reliable pass protection are jobs one and two for offensive success this season. Will they be able keep the chains moving, and will they move the ball when the game is on the line against their better opponents?
DEFENSIVE CONCERNS: The DL may be adequately and effectively rebuilt. It appears that the first line will be very good, and maybe great, but developing good player rotation and an effective second defensive line is a necessity. It also seems that there is necessary talent and size in the wings, regardless of inexperience. Recently Defensive Coordinator Don Brown indicated that there are multiple ways to be aggressive, and aggressiveness is a Brown emphasis. He isn’t called Dr. Blitz for nothing.
The nagging defensive worry for this team at this point in time remains the linebacker, safety, and corner positons. The least worrisome group of these three position groups seems to be at linebacker. The back end of the defense is a prime worry. Brown does not profess worry. He knows that many of the young guys can play now, and that some of them logged a lot of playing time last season.
Last year this defense included the hyper talented Jabrill Peppers as a hybrid safety and linebacker, and the lockdown Jourdan Lewis at one corner. Their talents are now serving the NFL. Not surprisingly there are very talented, but not equally talented, youngsters now fighting for spots. There is no one player that can replace a Peppers or a Lewis, but we shall see what the group can achieve.
One of those talented athletes is Junior Safety Tyree Kimmel. He is progressing. A back up his first two years, Kimmel now sheds the inexperienced label. He needs to progress to the outstanding full time player his spring performance portends.
Sophomore Linebacker Khaleke Hudson will likely settle in at Viper (hybrid linebacker, safety). He loves to mix it up at the line of scrimmage, and seems to have the explosive toughness to endure. Many see him as a star of the future. Hopefully at the end of this season we will be able to place him in that category. Safety/Viper Jordan Glasgow is a great competitor, and will contribute somewhere. Josh Metellus gave a credible Orange Bowl performance at Viper. He is likely to gather some playing time. Talented Freshman Linebacker Drew Singleton has gathered notice.
Fifth year started and Linebacker Mike McCray has blossomed into a line backing weapon. Sophomore Linebacker Devin Bush, Jr. may end up All Big Ten or better. As did Kimmel and Hudson, he showed great promise in the spring. DE Mike Wroblewski is growing, and also showing great promise. Except for some the lack of starting experience the linebackers look to be a solid position. A few seasons ago, the concern for the LBs was lack of athletic talent for the position group. You can scratch that idea now.
Defensive backs are the primary defensive concern. Corners Keith Washington and experienced Corner Brandon Watson, along with Sophomores David Long and Lavert Hill will get a good look, as well Freshman Benjamin St. Juste and Ambry Thomas per Coach Brown recently. Jaylen Kelly-Powell is also getting a look at corner. Coach Brown needs at least three of them to step up. The Safeties may be Josh Metellus and Tyree Kinnel. The oft injured Wide Receiver Drake Harris has switched to corner back. Reports are that he recently had a practice interception. He brings rangy speed to the position.
The defensive line sports some mobile beef, and they will be effective, especially the starting five. Projected Pre-Season All American Rashan Gary was highly credentialed out of high school and is now embellished with the hype of a burgeoning super star. He seems to have the smarts, the physique, and the will to do so. This season will tell the tale.
Still there are no sure bets in college football. Big Bryan Mone has struggled due to injuries, but he should contribute at the nose this year if he can stay injury free. Maurice Hurst, Jr. was outstanding last season, and is rising. Recently referring to Maurice Hurst’s ability to play football, Coach Brown indicated that last year Maurice was the most devastating (defensive) penetrator in college football. He should progress this year.
The search is on to man the second defensive line and some talent has been accumulated. Most of that talent is large, as is Sophomore Michael Dwumfour. Dwumfour is a 300 lb. athlete. Frosh James Hudson is 294, and highly rated Frosh Donovan Jeter is 260. Phillip Paea is 280. Freshman Aubrey Soloman 306 is another talent.
Freshman Kwity Paye keeps getting mentioned by Harbaugh, so there is real substance there. He is 6’ 4”, and 234. He has the makings of a fine Defensive End. It seems that he’ll likely be in the two deep on the weak side.
Freshman Luiji Vilian, is another defensive end with a great M Football future looming. He has quarterback chasing talent.
Coach Brown recently mentioned that on every defensive play, the defense has to attack as one. He indicated that leadership is starting to happen on this team. Brown states that adversity introduces a man to himself. When that happens, who will lead us back-take the team on his back?
OFFENSIVE LINE DEVELOPMENT: In a recent interview, Offensive Coordinator Tim Drevno indicated that all is going well at this time. To me, it appears that the starters, or contenders to start this season, will be Senior Mason Cole at Left Tackle, Sophomore Ben Bredeson at Left Guard, and perhaps Fifth Year Senior Pat Kugler at Center. Freshman Cesar Ruiz is listed at 6-4, 336 but trimming down. He is highly touted, and could challenge at either Center or Right Guard. Sophomore Michael Onwenu, listed at 6-2 and 350, is also trimming down, perhaps to the 330 mark. He will also challenge for the Right guard spot. Coach Drevno recently indicated that he does not have a fixation with weight. Some large players can move well enough.
Juann Bushel-Beaty may be the right tackle at 311. He has to eclipse some past pass protection woes. He has the size to compete at 6-7 and 290.
Freshman Chuck Filiaga may earn a shot. He is 6-4 and 340. He is a noticeable talent.
THE QUARTERBACK COMPETITION IS GOOD: Coach Drevno indicates that there is no need to rush into a quarterback decision. It appears they will let the competition continue and it is real.
I think that Wilton Speight did not have a remarkably good spring game, and his understudy, Brandon Peters showed great arm strength in the spring game. We saw only a small portion of the spring competition. Even so, many fans have been calling for Wilton to be replaced by Brandon. It could happen, but Speight would have to blunder his way around the field in fall camp, and Peters would have to be remarkable. This switch does not seem probable, but it could happen. The competition will make both better. The best quarterback will play.
Whoever starts, the offense, the team, and the fans are the ultimate winners. For the first time in recent memory there is credible depth at the quarterback position. Fifth Year Senior John O’Korn brings talent, and experience, and is last chance desperate. Hyper talented QB recruit Dylan McCaffery is in the wings. Harbaugh will not pause in his relentless search for quality quarterbacks.
Offensive Coordinator Tim Drevno recently stated that: “We just kind of rotate through. We go through practice and say that we are going to put this guy in for these four plays, and its equally divided…there’s no favoritism. We roll the balls out and see who the best guys are”.
RUNNING BACKS: While last year the Wolverines rushed more than they usually rush, and topped 200-yards per game for the season, they flat out could not run the ball at times against their better opponents.
There are hopes that talented Tailback Chris Evens will be the answer for 12-15 carries per game. He has some added pounds so he should be able to cope with the pounding. There are three other experienced and capable backs, each of whom is talented.
Karan Higdon, Ty Isaac, and Khalid Hill, and at least a pair of highly touted newcomers at the position, Sophomore Kareem Walker (could be a great inside runner), and the well- muscled Freshman O’Maury Samuels are on tap. Freshman Kurt Taylor is a well-regarded scat back.
This group will be outstanding this season. Those who learn to block effectively as well as run, will get their chance to exhibit their skills.
RECEIVERS: The Wolverines have the deepest pool of receiving talent I remember on a Michigan team. Sophomore Kekoa Crawford looks to grab a WR starting position, as does Freshman Tarik Black. He had the outstanding receiver performance in the home spring public game. It seems to me that Eddie McDoom will probably grab the starting position as the slot receiver, but the completion for all the receiving positions will be stern.
There is a small horde of highly talented receivers straining to break out of the pack to secure the top receiving positions for themselves, or failing that, striving to latch onto significant playing time. And some of them will.
In no particular skill order, Maurice Ways, Nico Collins (a big receiver), Nate Johnson, Oliver Martin, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nate Schoenle (Walk-On), all look to be significant contenders for starts or playing time. Grant Perry’s case now appears to be settled. Will he soon be out of the doghouse? With or without his services, there is an impressive array of talent. All of them know that the surest way to warm the bench is to run inexact or lazy routes, or drop catch able passes. This is the deepest position group on the team, and by the end of the year may be the strength of the team. Now, they want to know who can block best.
TIGHT ENDS: There is absolutely no question that they will miss the now departed pass catcher Tight End Jake Butt. They will also miss transferred Tight End Devin Asiasi, who was a big, mean blocker. M has both girth and pass catching finesse remaining in the abilities of Junior Ian Bunting, Sophomore Nick Eubanks, Zack Gentry, Sean McKeon, and Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. I expect Wheatley to step out of the shadows and have a great year, but it could be one or more of the others. They will get their chance as Harbaugh loves to utilize Tight Ends. They are now coached by Greg Fry.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The tour de force that kicker and punter Kenny Allen became must be replaced. Kicker redshirt Freshman Quinn Nordin has a strong leg and talent. He drilled an impressive 48-yarder in the spring game. Freshman Brad Robbins might get inked in as the punter, and Freshman Matt Baldeck, a preferred walk-on, may settle in as the new long snapper with competition from Andrew Robinson. Perhaps the holder will be Garrett Moores.
There will be a group of talented return men. The group includes Nico Collins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Maurice Ways, Kekoa Crawford, Karan Higdon, Kareem Walker, Ty Isaac, Benjamin St. Juste, Tyree Kinnel and Khaleke Hudson. They should be very good on both punt returns, and kick returns, but will miss Peppers. He who hangs onto the ball well will start.
The upcoming season should provide interesting competition for the Wolverines, and fun for their fans.