Michigan Wolverines: Chris Bryant

Michigan’s spring game is less than a month away, so we’re going to try our best to look into the future and make five predictions for the next few weeks and what we might or might not see in the scrimmage.

Prediction No. 1: The offensive line isn’t going to be quite as far along as some would like.

The offensive line is the position group that must improve the most between 2013 and 2014 if the Wolverines want to be better offensively. As good as Devin Gardner, Derrick Green, De'Veon Smith or Amara Darboh might be, it won’t matter too much if the offensive line struggles like (or for as long a stretch) it did in 2013.

What is often thought of as a prototypical Michigan offensive line is one that is stacked with juniors and seniors, guys who have paid their dues, learned from upperclassmen and are physically and mentally ready to step in. However, that wasn’t the case last season and, as much experience as some players might have gained in 2013, it won’t be the case this fall.

[+] Enlarge Kyle Kalis
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesKyle Kalis and Michigan's offensive line should be expected to make strides this spring, but perhaps just small ones.
The offensive line will still be very, very young. The projected starters on the interior are a sophomore (Kyle Bosch) at left guard, a junior (Graham Glasgow) at center and another sophomore (Kyle Kalis) at right guard. Glasgow also has experience at left guard. Between the three, they only combine for 20 career starts at their respective positions.

The trio also doesn't have experience as a starting combo. Kalis appeared in Bosch’s three starts (against Michigan State, Nebraska and Northwestern) but didn’t start. But they have played together before, which is more than could be said for the group last season.

So while it’s still a very young group, there could and should be some gains made in the interior of the offensive line. So the problem flip-flops from what it was last season to what it is this season -- the tackles, the strength of the line last season. In 2014, those two positions will likely be filled by two redshirt sophomores who have limited experience.

Ben Braden, who appeared in just two games, is taking reps with the top group this spring and Erik Magnuson, who started seven games and appeared in 12 games last season, is the likely leader for the spot at left tackle. Both have the physical attributes to be excellent tackles: height, weight and long arms. But last season showed what talent without experience looks like, and the idea of some of that inexperience protecting Gardner’s blind side is a bit worrisome.

On top of that, Magnuson underwent shoulder surgery this winter and isn't participating in spring practices. Redshirt freshman David Dawson is taking his snaps at left tackle, just continuing the revolving door of youth on the offensive line.

Last year the competition for the positions went on for weeks throughout the season. In the perfect world, coaches would at least be able to see the two-deep throughout the spring. That certainly won’t be the case as Magnuson is out and reserve players such as Chris Bryant and Joey Burzynski -- who have game experience -- are unavailable this spring.

Because fixing the offensive line is at such a premium for the Wolverines and because fans have taken such notice to it, expectations are high. But those expectations still need to be tempered, especially through this spring. If people show up to the spring game expecting to see the 1997 Michigan offensive line out there, then they probably want to stay home and try to watch replays. This group will make strides, but those strides aren’t going to be massive this spring.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke gave his team a bit of a lighter schedule during this bye week -- getting back to practice Thursday while doing lifting and conditioning throughout the week. Hoke said they would focus on getting the team healed a bit and begin thinking about Michigan State (Nov. 2, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

The Michigan offense has lacked consistency this season, so this week will give the Wolverines an opportunity to find that and jell more as they begin what will be a tough stretch to end the season. Defensively, Michigan had appeared stout until last weekend against Indiana, so this off week gives that group a chance to regroup and examine what went wrong.

Here’s a closer look at what this week means on both sides of the ball.

Offensively

Offensive coordinator Al Borges has a lot of talent on his side of the ball, but it hasn’t always come together to show the most cohesive, productive unit.

[+] EnlargeAl Borges
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIAl Borges is still examining his options on offense.
Michigan will always start up front, so that seems a good place to begin. The offensive line has gone through multiple starting lineups, and still, nine weeks into the season, the Wolverines don’t know what their best unit is up front.

Taylor Lewan, Michael Schofield and Graham Glasgow are safe at the tackles and center spots, but it doesn’t really matter how well those three play if the guards let pressure through on both sides. Kyle Bosch, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson and Chris Bryant all seem to be battling for those guard spots. With two full weeks to prep for the Michigan State game, it does seem likely -- at least with what the coaches want -- as though the starting group against the Spartans will be what Michigan will go with the rest of the season.

“We’re not eliminating anybody,” Borges said. “We still have some talented kids in the wings. We’re trying to keep this thing competitive. … We got to this point where we’re pretty functional now, because we’ve kept it competitive. We don’t like doing it this way. We’d rather just have the same five from the beginning, but it hasn’t worked out that way.”

The O-line showed cohesion against Indiana and gave quarterback Devin Gardner plenty of time in the pocket. Gardner likely spent the week watching film with Borges to figure out how to attack the Michigan State defense. The Spartans boast the best defense in the country and have given up fewer than 14 points per game this season.

Gardner is going to need to continue improving his accuracy, as MSU will make sure to put its defense in prime positions to make plays on the ball. Already this season the Spartans have accounted for five defensive touchdowns.

However, they haven’t had to game plan against a tandem as unique as Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess. Both are effective but completely different as playmakers, and when one draws attention from a defense, the other seems to make big plays.

The Wolverines were ultra-effective in the pass and run game last weekend largely because they showed such a diverse offense, which in turn opened up the game for Gardner and allowed him and the playmakers to make plays.

“We’re not becoming a spread team … but we’re going to have that dimension in our offense,” Borges said. “We’re going to have the ability to take you sideline to sideline; we’re going to have the ability to mow you over. … If you have both, certain games one is going to be better than the other.”

Defensively

Michigan’s defense looked so solid … up until last week.

But it wasn’t the point total or the yardage total that disappointed defensive coordinator Greg Mattison the most. Instead, it was the fact that there weren’t 11 helmets running to the ball on every play. If the Wolverines want to take care of business next weekend in East Lansing, that (and many other things) will have to change.

[+] EnlargeJake Ryan
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarHow close Jake Ryan is to 100 percent will impact the Wolverines' defensive plans.
Mattison said he’d spend every second this week planning for the Spartans’ attack, which has gotten stronger every game since Connor Cook took the starting QB job. But even with that, Mattison said he feels good about what kind of team will take the field in a week in East Lansing.

“I feel very confident in our guys, because we’re going to work every second to do it,” Mattison said. “I know we’ll have Michigan defense back on that field the way it’s supposed to be when we play that game.”

The coaches haven’t come out and completely said what their plan is for Jake Ryan at this point. But if he is 100 percent and still has that quick step and instinct, it doesn’t seem like they’ll continue the three-play rotations they’ve employed with Ryan, Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon for much longer.

If Ryan begins picking up more reps for the MSU game, it wouldn’t be too big of a surprise to see Beyer moved back to the defensive line to bring an extra body and experience to that group, while also being able to give Ryan a break here and there.

The secondary needs to clean it up this weekend. The Wolverines allowed several big plays over the past two weeks, and on many of them it seemed as though the defensive backs were right there but didn’t finish. But almost doesn’t cut it in football.

Mattison said Saturday’s disappointment for each position group on the defense could be a positive experience in the long run, as it’ll fuel each player for the rest of this season.

“That experience from Saturday -- you can’t pay for that, that feeling, and them seeing how it isn’t supposed to be,” Mattison said of the Indiana game. “You can’t pay for that. If you’re going to be a great defense, they’re going to remember that for a long time.”
Putting together the Michigan offense this season has been a bit of a puzzle for coach Brady Hoke and his staff. But the part that has proven to be the most difficult is also the part that gets it all going -- the offensive line.

The Wolverines have started three different offensive lines through seven games. And while Michigan had its best game -- statistically -- last Saturday, it was against one of the worst defenses in the Big Ten.

Obviously the big test in two weeks, you're playing one of the top five defenses in the country and in our conference in all the categories. We've got a lot of work to do before then.

Coach Brady Hoke on the Wolverines' next game at Michigan State.
Even with that, Hoke was happy with the push from the offensive line and the protection it provided for quarterback Devin Gardner.

“I liked the progress that they made,” Hoke said. “And even the guys who weren’t starting, the weeks that they had were significant in their development. The competition that we always have, I think, is helping us as a football team.”

That competition so far this season has provided enough talent for Hoke to shuffle faces around on the O-line. The three players who have started every game are Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield at the tackles and Graham Glasgow, first at left guard, and then moving over to center when conference play began.

One of the bigger personnel surprises was redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis being moved out of the starting lineup. Coaches had spoken highly of him from the beginning of fall camp, but even though he lost his starting spot to redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson, Hoke said that Kalis is still in the middle of that competition.

“I think he’s probably responded like you’d like him to,” Hoke said. “He has had a good week of practice -- came out and was physical, really understands that we’re going to need him. The next five games I can assure you we’re going to need every guy that we have in both fronts to play their best football.”

And they might be using that depth as they already have this season. Here’s a look at who played where through the first seven games this season.

Central Michigan to Connecticut:
LT: Taylor Lewan (Erik Magnuson)
LG: Graham Glasgow (Chris Bryant)
C: Jack Miller (Joey Burzynski)
RG: Kyle Kalis (Erik Gunderson)
RT: Michael Schofield (Ben Braden, Magnuson)

Minnesota and Penn State:
LT: Lewan (when Lewan got injured: Schofield, Gunderson)
LG: Chris Bryant (Burzynski)
C: Glasgow
RG: Kalis (Burzynski)
RT: Schofield (Magnuson)

Indiana:
LT: Lewan
LG: Joey Burzynski (Kyle Bosch)
C: Glasgow
RG: Magnuson (Kalis)
RT: Schofield

It will be interesting to see what Hoke and his staff decide to do with his group going forward.

On Monday, Hoke announced that Burzynski would be out the rest of the season with a torn ACL so that opens up the left guard spot again. When Burzynski exited the Indiana game, Hoke inserted Bosch, a freshman who held his own.

Whether Bosch can keep that spot, or if Hoke and his staff decide to shuffle more players around the line, will be something that plays out over the next week and a half as the Wolverines prepare for Michigan State.

The Spartans are the country’s best defense, allowing just 228 yards per game, including just 59 rushing yards per game. Considering the rushing performance the Wolverines had against Indiana, they’ll be heading into that game feeling confident, but they’ll certainly have their work cut out for them.

“Obviously the big test in two weeks, you’re playing one of the top five defenses in the country and in our conference in all the categories,” Hoke said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do before then.”
The first bye week of Michigan’s season has come and gone, and we’ll see how much not playing last weekend will help the Wolverines in their homecoming game this weekend.

Here are five things to watch as Michigan gets back on the field tomorrow.

1. Devin Gardner bouncing back. Following the Notre Dame game, Heisman hype surrounded Gardner. Now he’s saying that he deserves the amount of recent criticism he has gotten from fans and the media. That’s quite the swing for anyone, even someone as confident and sure of himself as Gardner. He admitted he strayed from his technique in the Akron and Connecticut games. With a week off to take a step back, spend more time in the film room and work more on the basics, he could step on the field as an entirely new player ... or he could reappear as a turnover risk. However, with the combination of Gardner’s attitude and Minnesota’s defense, expect Gardner to take a few steps forward this game.

2. The new interior offensive line. The Wolverines’ offensive line was inexperienced and lacked chemistry. Now, at the very beginning of the Big Ten season, the Wolverines are changing it up and hoping for the best. Moving Graham Glasgow to center will give Michigan a slightly bigger presence on the inside, but again, they’ll be starting from scratch. He has started four games at left guard and has worked at center through practices but he has never had to direct the line and work with Gardner during game action -- let alone the Big Ten opener. Chris Bryant will likely pick up his first start at left guard, which is again, not the most promising scenario for Michigan. He has been dinged up with knee and shoulder issues and has only appeared in one game so far this season. Perhaps the Wolverines’ O-line will take a few steps forward against the Gophers, but expect the occasional step backward as well.

3. The defensive line moving on up. The Wolverines showed progress with their four-man rush against Connecticut, and with a bye week to get back to the basics (which Greg Mattison had said they needed) as well as time to work together, expect them to continue their movement against Minnesota. They’re going to continue to funnel and shuffle guys through, but we’re still waiting on Frank Clark, while he has been impressive, to have his coming-out party. Saturday seems like a perfect time for that to happen.

4. A possible role change with Devin Funchess. The Wolverines haven’t had a consistent downfield threat this season. At times, Joe Reynolds has shown promise and Jeremy Jackson has shown potential, but that hasn’t exactly resulted in big gains. With Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo as Gardner’s current safety nets, it makes sense for Michigan to try something out, like moving Funchess into more of a receiving role down the field. He has tons of pro potential and has always been a better pass catcher than blocker, so don’t be too surprised if you see him line up as a wide receiver against the Gophers.

5. Run game, fun game. The best the run game has looked was against Connecticut, but even so, it wasn’t the way Michigan wants it to be. This week Brady Hoke said that he might give Fitzgerald Toussaint (5-foot-10, 200 pounds) a few less carries from here on out just to mix things up and to get different players/bodies out there. So if you see Derrick Green (5-foot-11, 240 pounds) and De'Veon Smith (5-foot-11, 224 pounds) out there this weekend, don’t be too surprised. And if this sparks the Wolverines run game, be even less surprised.

Planning for success: Michigan

October, 3, 2013
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Brady Hoke has told his team before that “the only noise that matters is what [they] get constructively from the coaches.”

But after two narrow -- and difficult -- wins over Akron and Connecticut, Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner said he has heard it from the outside too. And that noise hasn’t been positive.

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesMichigan QB Devin Gardner has stumbled lately against UConn and Akron, but hopes to get back on track Saturday against Minnesota.
“When you play as bad as I played, you kind of earn that,” Gardner said.

For the past few season he had seen how quarterback Denard Robinson had to deal with the criticism and scrutiny. He had counseled Robinson during those times and saw what he’d go through when he put the Michigan defense in difficult situations or threw a poorly timed pass to one of his receivers.

Now, those kinds of experiences and push back are put on Gardner. And while Gardner said that he likes to just have quiet during those times and then move on, Hoke said that he knows Gardner understands how much the team believes in him, the same way in which Gardner believed in Robinson the last few seasons.

“He has got a lot of guys that have his back -- when you think about the 114 other guys who have a lot of faith and belief, and the coaches and all that,” Hoke said. “I think he’s resilient. I think he’s smart. I think he’s confident.”

In the Wolverines’ games against Akron and Connecticut, Gardner made mistakes he hadn’t made in quite a while, mistakes that a redshirt junior shouldn’t make.

On Wednesday Gardner said that a few of those mistakes and errors had come about because he had stepped away from his fundamentals and techniques. While players work countless hours to try to avoid doing just that, Gardner said it’s easy to go regress into bad habits during hard moments in games.

“I took a psych class and [they said] it takes 10,000 hours to get out of a habit or something like that and when you get in the heat of the moment or something like that you can revert back to the old ways of doing things so it’s so easy to do that,” Gardner said. “We just have to stay focused.”

Hoke said that Gardner had responded well in the bye week and that he had seen his quarterback returning to the basic techniques and nuances of the position, which will be key if Michigan hopes to strike any kind of offensive rhythm against Minnesota.

Part of finding that groove will be creating plays that are based not on panic mode or desperation, but on what the Gopher defense is giving Gardner. In the past, Gardner seemed to be able to create offense out of nothing, exploiting defensive holes with his athleticism. But recently he didn’t do that very well.

“Sometimes you try to do too much and get a little outside yourself,” Gardner said. “You just have to stay grounded, stay focused.”

This Saturday in the Big Ten opener the Wolverines will likely be breaking out a new offensive line for their matchup with the Gophers -- one that features Graham Glasgow at center and Chris Bryant at left guard, as well as a run game that could see more of Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith helping out with Fitzgerald Toussaint’s carries.

These changes could prove to be crucial to Michigan’s success moving forward. Or, they could prove to be more hurdles, thrown in unsuccessfully at the beginning of the conference season.

But the bye week should’ve helped alleviate some of the growing pains the Wolverines could experience with these personnel changes. And it definitely gave Gardner more time to get in the film room and get back to his fundamentals.

But did he spend 10,000 hours training last week like his psych class would suggest?

“Not quite 10,000,” Gardner said. “But almost.”
Albert Einstein once said that insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Obviously, Einstein didn’t play college football and didn’t account for the amount of chemistry gained by an offensive line from week to week (despite his work with chemistry).

But maybe on the football end of things Einstein had a point.

The Wolverines have been running with the same five up front. And for the most part (and especially of late), the results have been mediocre. The offensive line hasn’t opened enough holes for Fitzgerald Toussaint to really get going. And it hasn’t protected Devin Gardner enough to help him stave off the unnecessary turnovers.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke has talked about moving some guys around on the offensive line -- though left tackle Taylor Lewan and right tackle Michael Schofield would be safe. But with last weekend being the Wolverines’ first bye, it seems probable that if a change were coming, it would happen this weekend against Minnesota.

The Gophers’ defensive line allowed 246 rushing yards to Iowa last weekend in a 23-7 loss. Iowa’s offensive line opened up major holes in the run game as it picked up 13 of its 22 first downs on the run.

The Wolverines’ offensive line hasn’t been nearly that effective.

On Monday the depth chart showed no changes in the starting lineup, but Hoke said that he would know more after Michigan’s practice on Tuesday.

“We've talked a lot and done a lot during the bye week,” he said. “We got two real good work days with Tuesday and Wednesday, and I think really probably after Tuesday, we'll have a little better indication which way we want to go.”

If the Wolverines do decide to make a change, it seems most likely that redshirt sophomore Graham Glasgow would move to center and redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant would fill in at left guard, keeping redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis at right guard.

Hoke also brought up Joey Burzynski, so he could possibly be a guy competing for time, if the coaching staff decides that the group might be better off with Glasgow at center or any other mix that they “wouldn't have a problem making a change if that's what we deem we ought to do.”

But unlike most other position groups, changing up one player or one small piece can have a much larger domino effect in how the chemistry of the line operates. But according to Schofield, that wouldn’t be a problem because offensive line coach Darrell Funk has been moving players in and out of the line up all season.

“The whole season we’ve been shuffling guys in and out, trying to get guys going, like younger freshmen, get them reps,” Schofield said. “We’re just trying to get everyone acclimated.”

And while everyone might be acclimated and the chemistry is important, Hoke said that there are also other factors -- productivity, which this group, no matter how much chemistry it might have, hasn’t achieved.

“That might be more critical than chemistry,” Hoke said. “We've got to put the guys in there that give us the best opportunity to be successful.”
Michigan’s first bye week couldn’t have come at a better time. With its performances against Akron and UConn, a run game that hasn’t really gotten going and a pass game that has struggled mightily, the Wolverines are getting to the root of their problems.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireMichigan coach Brady Hoke doesn't rule out a lineup change -- or two -- in his offensive line.
And a lot of times, that involves looking at the offensive line.

Michigan knew it would be young up front with three brand-new interior O-line starters -- left guard Graham Glasgow, center Jack Miller and right guard Kyle Kalis -- and while the struggles might not have shown up as much against Central Michigan and Notre Dame, they did against Akron and UConn.

So if there seems to be a place on offense that a new starter might emerge by the time the conference season hits, the offensive line might not be a bad bet.

“I think the three guys in the middle [of] the offensive line are always something that we look at,” coach Brady Hoke said. “There are some guys who have played well in there, but there’s great competition behind them. So if a guy has a good practice, good couple days, you may move him up.”

That’s a lot of pressure to put on three very young guys, but Hoke said that so far they’ve responded well to pressure.

But it wouldn’t just affect the interior line. Obviously, Hoke can’t make changes there without having it also affect left tackle Taylor Lewan and right tackle Michael Schofield.

But Lewan said he would be open to moving guys around or bringing news guys in if that’s what it takes to get the offensive line back to a Michigan standard.

“All of the offensive linemen on this team are great guys, as far as character, and if the coaches believe that another guy should get a shot, I’m going to work with him as much as I can,” Lewan said. “My job is to get this offensive line right, to get this team right.”

But he has also seen good, promising performances out of the youthful O-line.

Lewan said that he has seen intensity in the group, which is often a big jump to make, but that it hasn’t been quite as consistent as he wants it to be, nor has it always matched the intensity of their coaching staff.

“I saw a huge sense of urgency in those young guys [against UConn],” Lewan said. “Those guys are starting to build their legacy and build what they want in the future. ... I think it really clicked for them in the second half of the game.”

But the problem is that it’s taking a while for it to click, and Michigan doesn’t really have a lot of time left. With Big Ten play starting next weekend, the Wolverines know they’ll have to be perfect, or close to it, if they want a chance to play for the conference championship.

This bye week was well-timed to give the Wolverines a chance to try out a few new lineups. Perhaps Ben Braden, Chris Bryant or Erik Magnuson will get a shot on the O-line.

However, there will be growing pains because those players have even less game experience than Michigan’s current starting group.

Lewan said that maybe the younger guys are thinking too much about the pressures and the O-line gradings and how each step affects them down the road. It’s natural for a younger guy to think of those things as he’s fighting to secure a spot in the starting line or rotation. But if Michigan wants to have an offensive line that is effective, Lewan thinks they might just have to get rid of ... thinking.

“There comes a time when you have to be a student of the game, you have to watch film, you have to know what you’re doing,” Lewan said. “But when you’re on the football field, you kind of just have to turn your brain off and play football.”

Michigan football mailbag

September, 25, 2013
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It’s bye week. But that doesn’t mean football isn’t on our minds, which is why we have the weekly mailbag. Send your questions in (jenningsESPN@gmail.com, @chanteljennings on Twitter) and I’ll answer the best here every Wednesday.

Andrew Busovsky via Twitter: Was there any thought of putting in [Shane] Morris for [Devin] Gardner last game?

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner, Yarwin Smallwood
AP Photo/Charles KrupaMichigan quarterback Devin Gardner has been inconsistent for the Wolverines in his first season as starter.
A: I don’t think so. Everyone has to remember that it’s not just Gardner who’s the reason why the Wolverines are turning over the ball. The offensive line isn’t giving him a ton of help. The running backs haven’t been effective enough to really make teams play them too honestly. And the wide receivers aren’t always putting themselves in the best spots to catch passes. Yes, Gardner has made some poor decisions. I don’t think anyone will argue that. However, put in the same place, would Morris make better decisions? And on top of that, Morris doesn’t have the same kind of threat with his feet that Gardner has, so defenses would likely blitz even more. If a coach and coordinator are going to pull a redshirt junior for a true freshman, they better have as much confidence in that kid as they do in their job. I think leaving Gardner in was the right thing to do. I don’t know if Morris would’ve done any better and he certainly wouldn’t have been more clutch in the must-score situations that the Wolverines have been able to score in (led by Gardner).

Dave Conlon, Ann Arbor: Todd McShay says it's time for Michigan fans to "panic." What say you?

A: I would take a cue from the British and “keep calm and carry on.” But if you want to panic, I guess now would be a decent time. The Wolverines have showed they can be clutch when they really, really, really need to be. I guess that’s encouraging. But they’ve put themselves in positions to be clutch against teams that they should’ve eaten for breakfast. I think this bye week comes at an opportunistic time for Michigan to kind of figure out its situation on the lines on both sides of the ball. The four-man rush definitely improved against UConn, but it has a ways to go. And if coach Brady Hoke does decide to move some guys around on the interior of the offensive line, that might not be the worst thing in the world. And if both the offensive and defensive lines can get better, it’ll help the rest of the team exponentially. If the O-line can hold it together, that gives Gardner some breathing room and allows playmakers to do their thing. If the defensive line can start becoming a bigger threat, then the linebackers and secondary can focus more on their jobs rather than worrying if they’re breaking down up front. So, if you’re going to panic, panic about the lines.

P.J. Wascher, Ann Arbor: Has [Graham] Glasgow taken any practice reps at center since the season started?

A: From what I’ve heard, he has in practice. I assumed that we would’ve see him play a bit against UConn, but moving him to center also means that the Wolverines need to field a new body at left guard. Chris Bryant would likely be the first guy up, but for whatever reason, that just hasn’t happened yet. On Tuesday Hoke said that they would use this week to bring more competition to those three positions so I think we might see a new starting line up when Michigan starts Big Ten play against Minnesota.

Matt Brown via Twitter: They read into the hype and performed bad. They tried to counter that and still performed bad. What's their mentality now?

A: They’re taking it all in stride and working to get better during the bye week. Really, you’re just going to get a bunch of coach speak during this time. Clearly, Hoke isn’t happy with his team, nor are the players. But, in times like this, when nothing seems to be working, teams generally go back to the basics. And luckily enough for Michigan, it has a bye week now to do that, and then next week to prepare for Minnesota.

Jess, Michigan: With a bye week, what should Michigan fans do this weekend?

A: Watch some other football games. Ohio State and Wisconsin should be a good game. And LSU-Georgia will be good, too. Or, do like me and enjoy some cider/donuts and check out Art Prize in Grand Rapids.

Five things: No. 15 Michigan-UConn

September, 21, 2013
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Devin Gardner said earlier this week that whenever a team plays badly, the week feels longer.

Well, he’ll have to wait a bit longer than usual as the Wolverines have the 8 p.m. primetime spot on Saturday night against UConn. Here’s what we’ll be watching for as Gardner and the Wolverines take the field one week removed from one of the most unimpressive performances under Brady Hoke in a 28-24 win over Akron:

Shake up in the secondary. Hoke is never fully committed to any one starter on the team. If a player practices poorly, he will not start. And if another guy steps up, he will play. That was on full display last weekend as James Ross -- who finished the day against Akron as the Wolverines’ leading tackler -- didn’t start because he had poor performances in practice. The secondary is a place we could see a few new faces this weekend. Courtney Avery has been limited because of arthroscopic surgery, but expect him to return and start in the secondary, possibly at corner across from Blake Countess. I think we’ll still see Jarrod Wilson and Thomas Gordon as the starting safeties, but Avery should see plenty of action on Saturday.

Devin Gardner’s response. He described his play against the Zips as possibly the worst of his career. The way he allowed mistakes to compile and compound has been well-documented, but he faces a new test this weekend: competing on a big stage after having struggled mightily the week before. In his eight starts, Gardner hasn’t quite faced adversity like that, and it’ll be interesting to see how and if he responds against UConn. He is a confident person and a skilled player, but we’ve now seen the good Gardner and the bad Gardner. We know the good is very good and the bad is very bad. Which one shows up on Saturday?

The defensive line getting pressure. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has vowed that this team will be able to send a four-man rush and pressure opposing quarterbacks. However, I also remember him saying that the past two seasons. Ever since Mike Martin and Ryan VanBergen left, it hasn’t really been the case. We’ll likely see the same starters and depth, as Mattison has liked his players, just not their productivity.

Michigan’s first test on the road. Michigan might be 17-0 at home under Hoke, but the Wolverines have struggled (read: crashed and burned) on the road, turning the ball over far more often than they ever do at home. Hoke didn’t really have any kind of explanation for it, but the Wolverines better figure out how to get their act together early and often, because the road isn’t going to get any kinder from here on out for Michigan.

Offensive line change ups. Akron tore apart Michigan’s offensive line. As a result, Gardner was a turnover king and the Wolverines never really got a run game (or any kind of momentum) going. Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges have always said that the offensive line starters are written in pencil, not permanent marker. I think this week could be a time when we see some different faces in the lineup. Obviously, Taylor Lewan’s job at left tackle is secure (assuming he plays despite not practicing at times this week), and I think the same is true for right tackle Michael Schofield and right guard Kyle Kalis. The interesting spots will be center and left guard. I believe we’ll see the same starting lineup against UConn, but don’t be too surprised if Graham Glasgow moved to center and Chris Bryant took some major snaps at left guard as the Wolverines try out a few new line options.

WolverineNation Mailbag

August, 21, 2013
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We’re almost in the single-digit countdown to the start of Michigan football. You know what that means: Students will start arriving en masse to Ann Arbor in the next few days so if there’s anywhere you wanted to go on South University or State Street before then, get there soon.

If you haven’t left your computer to go to Bivouac or Rick’s, we can start talking football now.

[+] EnlargeMichigan's Fitz Toussaint
Rick Osentoski/US PRESSWIREWill Fitzgerald Toussaint be able to hold up for an entire season?
1. NKnieling via Twitter: Will there be an exclusive back on this season's team, or more than likely a RB-by-committee type of thing?

A: Brady Hoke, Al Borges and Fred Jackson would much prefer a featured back. Last season they had Fitzgerald Toussaint from Day 1, but two years before that, they kind of tested the waters with multiple backs before settling on Toussaint a few games in. The issue they’ll face this fall is that they have two guys who both present very unique and different issues. Toussaint will likely start against Central Michigan, but his health is a concern. He has been healthy through fall camp but when those practice piles turn to opponents and Big Ten linebackers and defensive linemen, will his body be able to hold up? Then you have Derrick Green, whose vision and football IQ need to catch up to the college game before he’s really ready to tear apart any defenses. It sounds like that’s what has held him back so far. Because both concerns are likely present, I’d imagine we’ll see both getting snaps until only really, really separates himself (but knowing the other one also has game time experience this season).

2. June Whitfield, Inkster, Michigan: Any mention of Chris Bryant in the mix within the offensive line?

A: Recently I’ve been hearing good things about Bryant at left guard. He sat out of Saturday’s scrimmage because of a knee injury, but I had heard that he had been taking more snaps with the first team than redshirt freshman Ben Braden. Assuming the knee injury isn’t a big concern, I could see him getting the start against Central Michigan. It's crucial to find someone that will mesh well with Taylor Lewan and find instant chemistry since Michigan will be running to the left behind Lewan often.

3. KentMazingerHw via Twitter: When will we see a new commitment?

A: The next big visit date for Michigan will obviously be the Notre Dame game. In the 2014 class, both Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) -- the No. 1 defensive end in the nation -- and John “JuJu” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Long Beach Polytechnic) -- the No. 3 athlete in the nation -- will be in attendance. That kind of atmosphere and energy will be huge in showing those guys how exciting and big Michigan football is as they’re both from outside the area.

4. RyanMassengill via Twitter: What team is the biggest threat to Michigan this season besides Ohio State?

A: I’ll pick a home and away game for this one. Home -- I’ll go with Nebraska. The Cornhuskers return quarterback Taylor Martinez, who will be a challenge for any defense. However, their defense is going to be replacing several starters in the front seven so Devin Gardner could have a field day, too. This could be a fun day to watch some explosive playmakers on offense. And as far as an away game, Michigan State will always be one to watch, but also ... don’t sleep on Northwestern. The Wildcats’ offense keeps defenses on their feet and their defense should be stout up front, which would force Gardner to pass and receivers to step up. It’s not necessarily a huge road game since there’s such a Michigan presence in the Chicago area, but still.

5. Sammy, Ann Arbor: Which Big Ten-related account makes you consistently laugh?

A: It's a parody account, but, @FauxPelini. His avatar should be enough to convince you.
As Michigan’s preseason approaches at the end of this week, WolverineNation takes a look at the 10 players who are most indispensable for the Wolverines this season. This doesn’t mean the most talented players, but rather the players, if Michigan lost them, would be in the most trouble.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- To many people other than Taylor Lewan, Taylor Lewan should be in his first NFL training camp right now, being hazed as a rookie and preparing for a career as a bookend tackle for whatever NFL franchise drafted him.

The redshirt senior chose to hold off on all of that for another season, surprising his teammates, his coaches and almost everyone else by returning to Michigan for his fifth season.

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Over the next week, WolverineNation will give a brief look at five players to keep an eye on during spring practice for varying reasons.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan’s biggest question entering the spring resides on the offensive line, where the Wolverines are replacing both guards and the center. This is important for many reasons, including they are the main conduits for blocking for quarterback Devin Gardner and whomever emerges out of the running back competition.

As Michigan saw last season, when the offensive line isn’t strong and cohesive, an offense can stall.

The most intriguing of all the offensive line prospects is redshirt freshman Ben Braden. The Rockford, Mich., native doesn’t have as much experience as some of his classmates, let alone some of the upperclassmen he’ll be competing with. But his raw potential, build and willingness to move inside if it means playing time makes him the WolverineNation No. 1 player to watch this spring.


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Over the next few weeks, WolverineNation will look at every position on the Michigan roster and give a depth chart analysis of each position on the roster heading into the offseason.

For three seasons, Patrick Omameh was a significant, serviceable option for Michigan at right guard. He would rarely wow anyone off the line with a crushing block, but he also had his moments going against quality defensive linemen almost every week.

Now, though, Omameh is gone and Michigan will lose its most experienced offensive lineman. In his place, no matter who it is, will be someone with almost none.

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Season anaylsis: Offensive line 

November, 30, 2012
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It was a unit entering the season with a lot of age but questions about experience, two new starters and little-to-no depth to replace anyone who was injured or struggled.

Those issues showed throughout this season, as Michigan’s offensive line was mediocre for most of the year, strong in small spots and awful when finishing blocks in the run game.

It is a problem, though, that became a huge issue for the Wolverines in 2012, and one they hope to remedy as soon as possible.

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WolverineNation mailbag 

November, 28, 2012
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The regular season ended with a thud for Michigan last Saturday, as the Wolverines flat-lined offensively in the second half against Ohio State in a 26-21 loss that left many wondering exactly what happened.

Offensive coordinator Al Borges has not yet spoken to the media after the loss and while Michigan head coach Brady Hoke didn’t give many answers, this week’s Mailbag tries to explain some of what went on.

Remember, the Mailbag is only as good as the questions you ask, so send those to jenningsespn@gmail.com or @chanteljennings for next week.

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Brian Bennett discusses the outlook for the Michigan Wolverines' football program in 2014.Tags: Michigan Wolverines, Braxton MIller, Brian Bennett, Devin Gardner
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