Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Five questions for Big Ten media days
By Michael Rothstein
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan heads to Big Ten media days in Chicago this week and, like 11 other teams, the Wolverines have a bunch of optimism and are likely anticipating a lot of the questions they’ll get over two days.
Last season, Michigan heard a lot about following up a surprisingly strong first season under Brady Hoke and SEC speed, considering the Wolverines opened against Alabama in Arlington, Texas. Michigan was confident then.
A little over a month and a blowout later, Michigan’s chances at a national title were history.
There won’t be that type of talk this season -- either of the SEC or national championship variety -- over the next few days. But here are five questions that will likely be asked and probably not fully answered about Michigan.
1. Who will be Michigan’s running back?
The health of Fitzgerald Toussaint and the depth chart at running back will be a certain topic of conversation at Big Ten media days.
The obvious answer is Michigan has no idea yet. It knows who the candidates are (Fitzgerald Toussaint, Derrick Green, Deveon Smith, Drake Johnson and Thomas Rawls) but considering two of the top candidates -- Toussaint and Green -- weren’t available in the spring, there is a still a big unknown. While Michigan has other questions across its team, this one could be the most important. Why? If Michigan can’t find a reliable running back, it would put more pressure on quarterback Devin Gardner and his receivers and tight ends to make plays. Plus, it would put Gardner and the passing offense in a situation where there would be a lot of second-and-long and third-and-long situations.
2. How will Michigan cope without Denard Robinson?
The Wolverines gave a peek at that answer the last third of last season when Robinson injured the ulnar nerve in his right arm. Still, what Gardner and offensive coordinator Al Borges ran over the final month of the regular season was still a very basic version of what Michigan could use now. Expect to see more play action, more running the ball and a more pro-style offense. Borges -- and Brady Hoke -- have always favored this. That’s the general answer. Exactly what Michigan’s offense will look like, including wrinkles specifically for Gardner, will be unveiled in the fall.
3. What happens if Devin Gardner gets hurt (or, who is Michigan’s backup quarterback)?
Again, the answer is somewhat known. The first answer, for Michigan, would be to have major concerns. Gardner is the only healthy quarterback on the roster who has any significant game experience. With Russell Bellomy sidelined with a torn ACL, his backup is either freshman Shane Morris or a pair of walk-ons, Alex Swieca or Brian Cleary. As Michigan did not secure a fifth-year graduate transfer or a junior college transfer, it will look to one of those inexperienced players if Gardner goes down. Of anything else that could happen to Michigan this season, this would be high on the list of concerns.
4. Who is pressuring the quarterback for Michigan’s defense?
Yet another viable question. Linebacker Jake Ryan, MIchigan’s leader in tackles for loss last season, is out indefinitely with a torn ACL. The school is hopeful he can return by midseason. Along the defensive line, inexperience remains. Tackle Quinton Washington is a fifth-year senior,\ but has never been the focal point of the line. Ends Frank Clark and Mario Ojemudia have talent, but have not put things together consistently. The rest of the options have barely played. Considering Michigan’s issues with its defensive front and quarterback pressure a season ago, more inexperience will remain a concern until proven differently, no earlier than Aug. 31 in the season opener against Central Michigan. Michigan, though, will likely say it likes its defensive line.
5. How often will Brady Hoke call Ohio State “Ohio?”
The answer is, well, every time. Entering his third year, the whole thing has worn a little thin. But the over/under here on how many questions he receives about Ohio State, Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller is around 30 throughout the two days. Add in rivalry questions and that’ll probably bump it up to 40. Apparently Hoke’s phrasing for Ohio State is catching on as Florida coach Will Muschamp called Ohio State “Ohio” at SEC media days last week.