Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Michigan Wolverines [Print without images]

Wednesday, August 8, 2012
WolverineNation Mailbag

By Michael Rothstein

Football season has officially started as Michigan began camp for this season Monday in preparation for its season-opening matchup with defending national champion Alabama on Sept. 1.

So who stands out in the secondary? Among the freshmen? These questions and more inhabit this week’s WolverineNation Mailbag. Remember, the Mailbag is only as strong as the questions you ask, so send ones for next week to jenningsespn@gmail.com or @chanteljennings on Twitter.

On to your questions:

Brandon (@umichfan1) from Indianapolis asks what improvements are you seeing with the strength of the secondary thus far?

Brandon,
We’re not able to watch any practices -- not even stretching this season -- but Michigan’s secondary should be the best it has been since Leon Hall was the Wolverines’ best cornerback. There is depth, with four of Michigan’s top five cornerbacks returning and four of the Wolverines’ five safeties back. There is also talent, as J.T. Floyd is one of the most consistent corners in the Big Ten, and Blake Countess is an emerging star at the position. Jordan Kovacs is one of the league’s top safeties and Thomas Gordon, his counterpart, has a knack for the ball. The reserves are also have potential, especially freshman safety Jarrod Wilson. He could have an impact early for Michigan. While unlikely he’ll supplant one of the starters, he could definitely see playing time.

Scott (@S_Stoll11) from Troy, Ohio asks which freshman or freshmen have the best chance to become starters?

Scott,
This season, not many. Kyle Kalis has a chance at left guard because it is a pretty open competition right now between him, fifth-year senior Elliott Mealer and redshirt sophomore Joey Burzynski. Kalis has natural size and skill most incoming freshmen don’t have. Even if he doesn’t start the opener, he could be the starter by the end of the season. It wouldn’t surprise me if you saw Ondre Pipkins or Willie Henry slip into the starting lineup at defensive tackle, particularly because neither Will Campbell nor Jibreel Black have significant game experience playing the position. As mentioned above, it is unlikely Wilson becomes a freshman starter, but he should get some time. Joe Bolden would be the other freshman who could push his way into the starting lineup. While it is tough to unseat an incumbent starter -- which any of the freshman linebackers would have to do to earn the position -- Bolden played at Michigan this spring and has the skill set to. It is possible Dennis Norfleet could start as one of Michigan’s kick returners, but that’s a wide-open competition.

The other positional questions are at wide receiver and tight end and what formations Michigan runs. While Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon seem to have a lock on the first two spots, after that it is pretty open, and both Roundtree and Denard Robinson seemed impressed with Amara Darboh after the first practice. So both he and Jehu Chesson have a shot. At tight end, there is an opening with no one on the roster having much game experience. If Michigan uses a two-tight end set, it is highly likely either A.J. Williams or Devin Funchess sees the field there.

Steve from Twitter asks how much of the slack can Thomas Rawls take off Denard [Robinson], assuming that Fitz [Toussaint] is suspended for the opener?

Steve,
I wouldn’t make that definitive leap yet -- there’s still a lot of time between now and Sept. 1 -- but for the sake of your argument, I’ll play along. If Toussaint is suspended for the opener against Alabama, I think it ends up being a combination of running backs to try and take pressure off Robinson with the running game. Robinson and Vincent Smith are very comfortable with each other, and he is the Wolverines’ best pass-blocking back, so he will see some time. As far as carries, if Rawls proves himself early, then it makes Alabama focus on two runners out of the backfield. If he is stuffed early and isn’t productive, then the Crimson Tide can focus solely on Robinson -- and that could mean trouble for Michigan. It really depends, in my opinion, on the first five-to-six carries Rawls or Smith or Justice Hayes would get in that game. A long way until Sept. 1, though.