- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
Welcome to the WolverineNation roundtable, where staffers Chantel Jennings, Michael Rothstein and Tom VanHaaren discuss pressing issues and topics surrounding the Michigan sports landscape.
1. Where will the biggest position battles happen for the Michigan football team next season?
TV: This is a good question, and I think it should be along the defensive line. With Will Heininger, Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen leaving, there is plenty of opportunity for competition, mainly among Will Campbell, Quinton Washington, Richard Ash, Nathan Brink, and some of the other guys already on the roster.
However, I think there's a good chance some of the incoming freshmen will be in the mix, too. Guys such as Chris Wormley, Tom Strobel, Matt Godin and Ondre Pipkins could be right in that competition to see playing time. I think it will be interesting to see who emerges out of that battle, and who really steps up going into the season.
MR: The obvious one is at center, where Ricky Barnum, Rocko Khoury and Jack Miller all will be vying to replace David Molk. There will also be a lot of competition along the defensive line, where three of four positions are pretty wide open. Also, don't be surprised if freshman James Ross along with Cam Gordon and Brandin Hawthorne push linebacker Desmond Morgan pretty hard for a starting slot.
I'm going to go with two surprises, though, for major battles. Both Josh Furman and true freshman Jarrod Wilson will push Thomas Gordon and Jordan Kovacs pretty heavily. Gordon and Kovacs will end up holding on to their jobs, but it'll be closer than most think. The other spot is at wide receiver, where a surprise contender will emerge as a starting wide receiver instead of the expected group including Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon.
CJ: I’m going to go with center, as well. If quarterback Denard Robinson wants to have a successful senior season, he needs someone at center who’s going to be a bulwark. He’s losing Molk (the 2011 Rimington Award winner), so someone is going to have to step into those shoes and learn quickly. I would say the competition is mainly between Khoury and Miller, and I’m excited to see what the youngster (Miller) can do for the Wolverines.
2. Who needs to step up the most during the second half of the Big Ten basketball schedule if the Wolverines want to make a run in the postseason?
TV: I think Evan Smotrycz needs to become a more reliable player. Without sophomore Jon Horford, he needs to be a more serviceable backup for Jordan Morgan. He has shown his double-double potential this season, and he doesn’t have to do that every game for the Wolverines. But he can’t have stretches like the one he went through from the Wisconsin game to the Iowa game when he was 4-for-25, scoring just 13 total points.
MR: Sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. has to get it going. He has been unsteady with his game recently, and it has disrupted the flow of Michigan's offense. Too often he’s settling for 3-pointers instead of driving to the basket, the same issue he had during stretches of last season. Leading up to Tuesday's Michigan State game, Hardaway Jr. was 22 of 69 from the field and 7 of 31 from the 3-point line over the last five games, a stretch where Michigan went 3-2. The Wolverines need him to be better -- and smarter -- with his shot selection the rest of the season if they are going to make a significant run in the postseason.
CJ: I would like to see senior guard Stu Douglass step up. Michigan coach John Beilein gave Douglass the start for the Michigan State game and while I like Douglass coming off the bench, he helped the Wolverines get off to a solid start against the Spartans. He was still 1-of-3 from beyond the arc but once he stops overthinking the game and just shooting, he could be deadly. There’s a reason why he has made the sixth most 3-point field goals in Michigan basketball history. He can score, and he hasn’t shown that too much this season, but if he can get rolling during the Big Ten season, the Wolverines will be a much stronger all-around team.
3. How has Michigan filled holes with the 2012 football recruiting class?
TV: I really think this class is excellent from top to bottom. The major holes that needed to be filled were, and the coaches found quality athletes to help build competition. For example, the offensive line needed major help and this has to be one of the better hauls along the offensive line in recent memory. If they can add one more lineman such as Josh Garnett (Puyallup, Wash./Puyallup) then it will definitely be one of the best I've seen.
You could realistically have a complete offensive line just from this class, which is pretty impressive. Outside of the offensive line, the coaching staff has done a great job filling the holes at defensive end and building depth at linebacker as well. I think this is a pretty complete class given the landscape of recruiting and how it can go either way.
MR: Other than nabbing an elite running back and wide receiver commitment -- and there are still a couple weeks left for that to happen -- they filled holes well. They are answering some depth issues on offense and talent deficiencies on defense. It means Michigan will be a little young defensively for a few more years, but if Michigan keeps rolling as it has been in recruiting all of those issues will be solved within another cycle or two. Really like what Michigan has done at linebacker with adding James Ross, Joe Bolden and Royce Jenkins-Stone. That might be the best position group haul of the bunch.
CJ: I think the coaching staff did a tremendous (to use the vocabulary of Michigan coach Brady Hoke and Co.) job picking up this class even after they started a bit later than other schools. They saw the areas they needed help in the most -- defensive line, offensive line, linebackers. Nine of their top 12 recruits fit into those three categories (with the other three -- cornerback Terry Richardson, safety Jarrod Wilson and tight end Devin Funchess being huge gets for their respective position groups). The recruiting class recently dropped to No. 7 nationally, but I think it has to be one of the best as far as filling in the spots left open by graduation.