- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Michigan coaching staff uses the first few practices of the bowl season to give the older, more experienced players some rest and get younger guys into drills with the first and second teams.
The Wolverines used a lot of younger players this season, but here’s a closer look at a few of the names that have cropped up during bowl practices. A lot of them will be names you’ve seen before, but some of them really are guys who played mainly scout team this season and are finally getting some run with the top groups. Bowl prep really is a chance to take a look at the talent a team will have for the future, so these will be names to watch for not only for a snap or two in the bowl game but also over the coming seasons.
With Devin Gardner sitting out of bowl practice so far, Morris has taken a ton of snaps, which was expected, but probably not to this level. Bellomy returned to practices during bowl prep, and offensive coordinator Al Borges said he “jumped in with both feet,” so it seems as though he’s getting back into the swing of things. However, he hasn’t thrown a pass in a game in over a year and hasn’t worked a practice since spring ball.
Michigan will lose Fitzgerald Toussaint next season, but the Wolverines should be just fine with Green and Smith, who seem to be taking the majority of the snaps at least early on in bowl practices. Borges spoke highly of Smith’s development. Smith played second fiddle to Green this season, but the coordinator believes Smith has “a really good future because he runs hard. … I like him.” There has been a lot of growth in the running backs this season because of the learning curve for the position, and Borges has been happy with how they now look for creases in the defense, rather than relying totally on their speed or power.
Of Michigan’s receiving yardage this season, 59 percent of it came from players who won’t be on the roster next season so Michigan will really need to have younger players step up there. Borges brought up York, Jones and Dukes, saying they all were taking quite a few snaps. He also mentioned Norfleet as being a future slot receiver. He’ll be a guy who could show shades of Jeremy Gallon's elusiveness. Borges said Norfleet is “quick as a cat. … Once he really gets acclimated to the position, I think he’ll be a really good slot.” As far as Amara Darboh, who will be a redshirt sophomore next season due to his foot injury that kept him out this season, Borges said he’s not sure whether Darboh will be ready for spring ball.
All of this talent will return. Funchess and Butt already have played major roles, and there's no reason to think those roles won't expand in the future.
Borges mentioned that Bars and Kugler are both taking snaps at center. “We’re realizing they haven’t run the offense much and they don’t know a lot,” Borges said. “But at least we’re getting to see them and coach them more. That’s what’s cool about bowl games is they’re kind of another spring football so all those guys have done a pretty decent job.” Obviously this is an interesting group because there are so many freshmen and redshirt freshmen that we’ve already seen a lot of or at least heard a lot of, which typically wouldn’t be the case. Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson, Kyle Bosch and Ben Braden are all guys who are still in this group even though they’re not mentioned above. If all of these guys develop and create a competitive environment, this could be the deepest part of the team in two or three seasons. Borges said he believes the offensive line group’s future is very bright.