Michigan Wolverines: Freddy Canteen

Nearly all of the Big Ten’s top freshmen have reported to their respective schools, but ESPN.com caught up with a few players days before to pick their brains on an array of topics.

You can read the first installment here. To recap, the participants included Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson, ranked No. 157 in the 2014 class; Penn State WR Chris Godwin, one of the top 25 receivers in the class; Michigan LB Jared Wangler, one of 11 linebackers invited to the UA Game; Iowa WR Jay Scheel, one of two four-star players in the Hawkeyes’ class; and Maryland LB Jesse Aniebonam, the second-best prospect in the state behind OL Damian Prince.

Here’s what the freshmen had to say:

Outside of your team, what B1G freshmen are you most looking forward to watching and/or playing against?

Thorson: Hmmm. Trying to think. So there’s obviously Raekwon McMillan at Ohio State. I know we don’t play them this season, but I heard he’s a great player, so it’ll be fun going against him in future years. And it’s just guys like Zack Darlington; he’s at Nebraska at quarterback and I’ve gotten to know him over the past the few months, so it’ll be cool to go against him. And, at Michigan State, Madre London and I played at the Semper Fi [All-American] Bowl together, and he’s a great athlete.

[+] EnlargeChris Godwin
Miller Safrit/ESPNChris Godwin said his goal is not only to start this year but to be the Big Ten freshman of the year.
Godwin: I’m looking forward to seeing Freddy Canteen. I know him pretty well and, with his footwork, I think he’ll have a really good year at Michigan.

Wangler: I want to watch Byron Bullough for Michigan State. We played in this Michigan all-star game [‘Border Classic’ on June 14], and we got along pretty good. So I’m excited to see how he does. I know he’s got a good history -- his father and brother were successful for Michigan State -- so I feel like Byron is going to be successful, too.

Aniebonam: Big Ten-wise, that one guy -- Peppers, Jabrill Peppers -- he’s a solid athlete. I want to see how he does. He was in the Under Armour Game; we watched it right before our game [U.S. Army All-American Bowl] and he did pretty well. So, let’s see how he does at Michigan.

Why did you decide to commit to your school, and what do you think separates it from others in the conference?

Thorson: I always knew I wanted to play in the Big Ten. My family is from Ohio and Illinois, so I always just wanted to be around them so they could see me play – so that’s kind of how I narrowed it down. And then visiting different schools like Penn State, Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa – after looking at all those schools, I decided Northwestern was the best fit for me. I jelled with the guys on the team, and the coaching staff is just awesome. I thought that was the best fit for me both academically and athletically.

Godwin: I chose Penn State because I felt really comfortable on campus and with the team. It was also the right fit for me academically and socially, and I think the tradition and fan base really separate it from other teams in the conference.

Wangler: Michigan has always been my dream school to go to, and there aren’t many universities out there that offer such a great degree and a great football experience. Plus, I feel really comfortable with Coach [Brady] Hoke and Coach [Greg] Mattison. It’s a great fit. It’s close to home, my dad played there. ... It’s almost too good to be true.

Scheel: Well, personally, it’s just been a dream to play there. So, really, any other school that decided it was going to offer me was nice, but it was always my dream to go to Iowa. I’ve only heard good things about them. Playing for Iowa is really an honor. And what makes them different is they’re not known for getting big recruits -- I know that -- but they take two- and three-star recruits and turn them into NFL players.

Aniebonam: Maryland just really stood out to me. Not just because it’s my hometown team and all my friends and family will be around me, but every time I went to the campus I was just pulled in and attracted to it more and more. If you asked me in the beginning of my junior season if I wanted to go to Maryland, I would’ve said, ‘Heck no.’ But it just grew on me; it just felt right. … [What separates Maryland] is they’re well-known -- but still underdogs. I think it’s a team that is going to be really watched because people want to know what happens here.

What are your expectations for this season -- and your career?

Thorson: The coaches always say to prepare each week as if you’re going to start the game, so I’m going to do that every week. I just want to get better at leading the team and knowing the playbook and everything. The Lord has a plan for me and, whether that’s starting this year or next year, whatever happens happens. I’m just really looking forward to getting on campus and playing with these guys.

Godwin: I would consider them goals more than expectations because I haven’t done anything yet. But, this season, my goal is to earn a starting spot by UCF then continually improve as a player and a teammate and, hopefully, be Big Ten freshman of the year. As a team, a goal of mine is to go undefeated, but who doesn’t want that, right?

Wangler: I expect to win. I think this next season we have a lot of people coming back and, after having kind of a mediocre season last year, I think we’re going to come out with a lot of hunger and the team is going to do a lot better. I think that’s going to set the pace for the four years after that. I feel like I’m going to have a successful career at Michigan.

Scheel: Personally, going in, I just want to get to know the playbook better and get to know the offense as soon as I can. I pretty much think I’m going to redshirt because starting right away might be difficult. If it does work, that’d be great. But I’m just trying to do my best. With my career, I’m trying to make a big impact on Iowa football, and I just want to have fun and get on the field.

Aniebonam: I just want to make a name for myself early. I want to get myself out there and really, really put my stamp on the school and into the minds of the coaches as early as I can. … Hopefully, that’ll come quick, but nothing is ever promised. You have to work.
The Big Ten’s top freshmen will soon run on to their teams’ practice fields for the first time with the hope of making names for themselves. Nearly all of them have reported, so what is their mindset? And what do they think about their respective teams?

Before they reported, ESPN.com caught up with a handful of the conference’s elite freshmen – all were ranked within the ESPN 300 or earned an invite to the Under Armour Game – and asked them several questions to get a better idea of where they stand.

The participants were Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson, the No. 7 quarterback in the 2014 class; Penn State WR Chris Godwin, the top player in his state; Michigan LB Jared Wangler, one of 90 players selected to the UA Game; Iowa WR Jay Scheel, the headliner of the Hawkeyes’ class; and Maryland LB Jesse Aniebonam, the No. 98 player in the ESPN 300.

Part 2 with those same players will run on Tuesday. Here’s what they had to say in this first installment:

What game are you most looking forward to this season?

[+] EnlargeClayton Thorson
Tom Hauck for Student SportsNorthwestern signee Clayton Thorson is looking forward to the Wildcats' game at Notre Dame.
Thorson: Obviously, every game is important, so you can’t overlook any team. But I’d say the game I’m looking forward to is Notre Dame. That’ll just be a cool environment to play in. You see everything about how great their program and history are, so it’ll be fun to be inside the stadium and play on the field. It’ll be a cool experience.

Godwin: Honestly, right now, I’m looking forward to the UCF game because it’ll be my first game, and I don’t really want to look too far into the future. I just want to take everything one day at a time.

Wangler: To me, Michigan State kind of stands out the most. It’s an in-state rivalry, and last year we didn’t do well against them – and I feel like, this year, we have a lot to prove against them. I feel like Ohio State is the token answer, and I feel like that’s a big game. But, Michigan State, that’s an in-state game and they’ve been beating us the last few years. That’s not acceptable.

Scheel: I’m really just looking forward to the first game and heading out of Kinnick. I’m really looking forward to just experiencing it for the first time, because a lot of players have told me how special it was for them. So that’s something I’m really looking forward to, with the fan base and everything.

Aniebonam: That would be between Penn State and Ohio State, our conference home opener. Back in the day, I dreamed about playing against Penn State -- maybe even, back in the day, playing for them. But I’m looking forward to playing against them. I followed them, as well as Maryland, and it just seems like it would be a really exciting event, a game full of energy. We’re playing them up there, and I think it’s going to be a really close game. And Ohio State, that’s our first home game in the Big Ten. And that’ll really set the tone. So, those two are going to be really exciting.

Who’s one under-the-radar freshman -- outside of the ESPN 300 -- in your team’s class that we should be watching?

Thorson: I’d definitely say Justin Jackson, no question. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois two years in a row, rushed for like 6,000 or 7,000 yards in his career, and he’s a great guy. Obviously, the recruiting sites put up their view on what a guy is, and a lot said he wasn’t top-tier -- but he is. He’s the real deal. I think that’s one guy that will surprise people.

Godwin: If I had to pick one, it would be Troy Apke. I feel like he’s a guy that people aren’t really talking about but could really help us out a lot as a group of wide receivers.

Wangler: Freddy Canteen. I think he’ll be an immediate impact guy. I know he enrolled early, and he’s already turning heads. So Freddy Canteen. Everyone should keep an eye on him.

Scheel: The one guy I played against was Parker Hesse. He played both ways, at quarterback and linebacker, and they were a really good team. His legs are big, and he’s so fast and big that it was hard to bring him down. I think he’s going to be good for Iowa.

Aniebonam: I would say Will Ulmer. He was (Washington, D.C.) Saint John’s quarterback this year, and I believe he’s one of those underrated players that once people give him a chance – once he steps in – that he’ll show he’s an amazing athlete and an amazing player. I had the privilege of playing against him -- we butted heads for all four years -- and it was great to find out we were going to Maryland with each other. He’s going to surprise people.

If you could change one rule with the recruiting process, what would it be?

Thorson: The recruiting process comes so fast now, and guys don’t have a chance to grow into themselves. So I think one thing I would change is that the recruiting process would start a little later -- I would say coaches wouldn’t be allowed to contact guys until you’re going into your junior year of high school. I think that’s when you could make calls and stuff and talk to these coaches because guys are getting scholarships and letters when they’re in eighth grade. That’s crazy.

Godwin: Probably making official visits sooner, so that players don’t have to squeeze all of their visits in during the season.

Wangler: I think there should be an earlier signing day -- like maybe they should have two signing days. Just because it gets everything set in stone quicker because I know, when it gets closer to signing day, a lot of schools are pressuring kids and putting a lot of stress on them, and it’s kind of unfair to the kid. I feel if they really want to go somewhere, they should be able to.

Scheel: My recruiting process went pretty smoothly, so I don’t know if I would change anything about it. I guess, maybe being able to sign earlier -- just because you’re committed doesn’t mean that you’re really locked in to there. You need to sign. So if you want to sign right away, I think you should be able to do that.

Aniebonam: If I could change a rule -- I’m pretty sure you’re only allowed to take five officials -- I would change that. I know it’s probably a money thing because those cost money for the schools, but I don’t know where that rule came from. If you could take more visits than that, you’d get a better feel for more schools. I honestly don’t think anyone would need to take more than 10. But a lot of guys, those four- and five-stars, have a lot of options and they may be interested in a lot of schools. So, if they can get a few more solid official visits, that could make the difference.
Big Ten receivers undoubtedly took a step forward last season after struggling mightily the year before. Will the group continue to improve or backslide after losing standouts such as Allen Robinson, the back-to-back Big Ten receiver of the year, Jared Abbrederis, Jeremy Gallon and Cody Latimer?

The 1,000-yard mark means more to wide receivers than rushers, especially in the Big Ten. Four players reached the milestone in 2013 after just one (Robinson) in 2012. The Big Ten had four 1,000-yard receivers in 2011 but none in 2010 and just one (Purdue's Keith Smith) in 2009. So this category can be tricky to forecast.

Although no Big Ten returning player had more than 800 receiving yards in 2013, the league boasts several potential breakout stars. Your task today: Select the Big Ten player most likely to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards this fall.

The candidates ...

SportsNation

Which Big Ten player is most likely to reach 1,000 receiving yards this season?

  •  
    32%
  •  
    11%
  •  
    21%
  •  
    5%
  •  
    31%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,552)

Kenny Bell, Nebraska, senior: The 'fro, tragically, is no mo' after Bell lost a bet to his friend, Northern Colorado defensive lineman Devontae Chapple. But perhaps less hair will mean more production after Bell's receiving yards went from 863 in 2012 to 577 last year. Nebraska never has had a 1,000-yard receiver, and quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. has much to prove as a passer, but Bell is one of the nation's most experienced wideouts.

Stefon Diggs, Maryland, junior: Big Ten fans who haven't seen Diggs are in for a treat, at least when he's not facing their favorite team. An ESPN 150 recruit who picked Maryland over Ohio State and others, Diggs finished eighth nationally in all-purpose yards (174.2) as a true freshman. He averaged 17.3 yards per reception through Maryland's first seven contests last season before suffering a broken leg. Diggs should be fine for the season and can put up huge numbers with his big-play ability. Maryland's depth at receiver -- Deon Long also returns from a broken leg -- could make it tough for Diggs to get to 1,000 yards.

Devin Funchess, Michigan, junior: Funchess is listed as a tight end and won the Big Ten's tight end of the year award last fall, but he plays like a bigger receiver at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds. He has averaged 15.5 yards per reception in his first two seasons with 11 touchdowns, setting a team record for receiving yards by a tight end with 748 last fall. Funchess becomes quarterback Devin Gardner's favorite target as Gallon departs. Michigan needs its receivers to step up, but Funchess could threaten 1,000 yards this year.

Shane Wynn, Indiana, senior: Like Bell, Wynn saw a slight production drop from 2012, when he led Indiana with 68 receptions, to last season, when he had 46 but still put up about the same yardage. But the departures of Latimer and tight end Ted Bolser, both selected in the NFL draft, along with Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson leave Wynn as undoubtedly Indiana's No. 1 passing target. Quarterbacks Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson will be looking for Wynn a lot this fall, and his numbers could surge in a productive IU offense.

And, finally ...

Mystery man: Don't like any of these candidate to reach 1,000 receiving yards? This is the spot for you. Maybe Rutgers' Leonte Carroo complements his touchdowns with bigger yards totals this fall. One of the Northwestern Joneses (Christian or Tony) might reach 1,000 yards in a more pass-driven offense. Geno Lewis could follow Robinson's path at Penn State. Maybe Ohio State's Devin Smith gets there. Will one of Michigan State's receivers -- Tony Lippett, Macgarrett Kings, Aaron Burbridge, Keith Mumphery -- separate from the pack? Maybe one of the spring standouts -- Iowa's Derrick Willies, Illinois' Geronimo Allison or Mikey Dudek, Michigan's Freddy Canteen -- has a true breakout season.
The unofficial start of summer begins this holiday weekend, but we're dreaming about the fall. With that in mind, we're looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt/suspended/involved in a time-travel mishap, etc. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense, but not always. Our next stop in the series is the Michigan Wolverines.

[+] EnlargeDevin Funchess
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesA lack of depth at the position makes Devin Funchess an invaluable asset to Michigan's offense.
Devin Funchess, WR, Jr.

It's tempting to pick the other Devin here and go with quarterback Devin Gardner. And maybe that would be the smarter call. But Brady Hoke keeps insisting that Shane Morris has made progress and is catching up to Gardner, so the Wolverines could weather a prolonged absence from Gardner. Depth is a much more pressing issue at the position Funchess plays. After losing Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo to graduation and Jake Butt to injury, Michigan has few other experienced receiving options. Freddy Canteen turned heads this spring but is still just a true freshman, while other players such as Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh must prove themselves. Funchess caught 49 passes for 748 yards and six touchdowns last fall, and the converted tight end is a matchup nightmare, especially in the red zone. His playmaking skills would be sorely missed.

Frank Clark, DE, Sr.

The Wolverines are building talent and depth along their defensive line, but Clark is still the best playmaker up front. He led the team with 12 tackles for loss last season while adding 4.5 sacks. The 6-foot-2, 270-pounder has elite athleticism and is looking for a major breakthrough season as a senior. Michigan has other options at defensive end, including Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley. But Clark has a chance to be the leader for an improved defensive line that could be the key to the entire defense.

Big Ten's lunch links

May, 1, 2014
May 1
12:00
PM ET
Howdy, May. There goes one more month out of the way before football season starts for real.
  • Michigan has an established weapon in Devin Funchess and a future star in Freddy Canteen, but questions still remain about the targets for the passing game.
  • The relationship began with a somewhat unusual request, and after 10 years together, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio reflects on his time with Pat Narduzzi.
  • David Jones writes that hiring James Franklin was a risk, and the developments this week suggest there's at least a chance more things could pop up with the Penn State coach.
  • Nick Saban went out of his way to praise the Big Ten and made sure he was quoted doing so during a stop in Ohio.
  • Get to know one of Ohio State's most valuable weapons on the recruiting trail -- a graphic designer.
  • Part of the apparent down cycle for the Big Ten can be traced to the ups and downs of the 2010 recruiting classes across the league. Sam McKewon takes a detailed look at the hits and misses.
  • A former Rutgers wide receiver is trying to make an impact elsewhere in the league, and Miles Shuler appears to be on track to give Northwestern a boost on offense.
  • Wisconsin would have preferred to keep its director of football operations, but now it will have to move quickly to fill a very important job to Gary Andersen.
  • The 2013 signing class is already starting to fill out the depth chart at Iowa.
  • Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is scheduled for a public forum at Akron in his bid for the school's presidency.
Now that spring practice is officially in the books, we're taking a look at each Big Ten team and identifying a player who announced himself as a potential key performer this fall.

We're talking about guys who maybe haven't had big roles yet but displayed enough during the 15 spring practices -- and not just some fluky, spring-game performance against backups -- to factor heavily into their team's plans.

This series begins with one of the first teams to wrap up spring practice, the Michigan Wolverines.

[+] EnlargeFreddy Canteen
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsFreddy Canteen wasn't the most heralded receiver in Michigan's recruiting class, but he surged to the head of the class this spring.
Spring breakout player: WR Freddy Canteen

Canteen enrolled at Michigan in January without a lot of hype. ESPN ranked him as a three-star prospect and the No. 168 receiver in the Class of 2014. Two other receivers in the Wolverines' class, Drake Harris and Maurice Ways, were ranked ahead of him.

But Canteen made his presence known early and was one of the most buzzed-about players during Michigan's spring session. Though he just turned 18 on March 12, the Elkton, Md., prospect quickly became one of the best receivers on the field for a team in need of some after the graduation of Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo. Canteen worked often with the starting unit and started in the spring game, when he hauled in a 44-yard catch.

"Once you watched him compete in winter conditioning and the things coaches are involved with and just his everyday approach to the game, you knew he had the work ethic and maybe the maturity to be beyond some other guys," head coach Brady Hoke told ESPN.com in late March. "What he’s done out here, I don’t know if I expected it. But we have a lot of confidence in him."

Canteen lined up in the slot a lot this spring, but at 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds, he's capable of playing on the outside, as he did in the spring game. His speed and playmaking ability are badly needed on this offense.

“I always felt like I could compete because of my skill level,” he told reporters in early April. “The first practice, I came out and did well. I already had confidence, but I guess you could say it was a little boost.”

After his surprisingly good spring performance, the freshman appears to be ready to give the Wolverines' passing game a boost this fall.

Michigan spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
9:00
AM ET
The spring workouts are in the books and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we're taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for Michigan.

Three things we learned in the spring

  • Front seven, front and center: The Wolverines didn't stand pat on defense this offseason. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is now coaching the linebackers, while Mark Smith moved down to take over the defensive line. They also shuffled their linebackers, switching Jake Ryan to the middle and emerging star James Ross III to the strong side. The moves seemed to work out well this spring, with Ryan looking like his old playmaking self a year removed from ACL surgery. The defensive line could be one of the team's strengths, led by senior defensive ends Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer and improving youngsters Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley and Willie Henry. Mattison wants to blitz more this season and hopes the defensive line can get more pressure on its own.
  • Early enrollees, immediate impact: When players skip the final half of their high school senior years to enroll in college in January, the hope is that they will be more advanced than most freshmen. Wide receiver Freddy Canteen and offensive lineman Mason Cole exceeded those expectations. Both impressed the coaching staff right away, with Canteen drawing raves and Cole getting a lot of first-team reps at left tackle. Both were with the starting unit during the spring game and figure to have roles on the team this fall.
  • More QB clarity: Brady Hoke talked of a quarterback competition this spring, and Devin Gardner wasn't originally expected to do a whole lot while recovering from a broken foot. But Gardner surprised the coaches by fulling participating in all 15 spring practices and asserting his hold on the position. Hoke said Shane Morris closed the gap a bit on Gardner and that the competition would continue. But even though Gardner didn't play well in the spring game, it's pretty clear that this remains his team.
Three questions for the fall

  • Can O-line be less offensive?: New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has brought a simplified blocking scheme and a focus on running downhill. Players said there were times this spring when that was effective. But concerns about the youth and chemistry on the line remain, and not just because of another shaky performance in the spring game. When a mid-year enrollee (Cole) is starting at left tackle, that raises serious red flags. The return of Erik Magnuson and Joey Burzynski from injury and Graham Glasgow from his one-game suspension will help the experience and talent level. But for now, the line is full of young, unproven players who must find a way to raise their games between now and late August.
  • Skill position suspense: With Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo graduated, Devin Funchess is the only returning receiver with more than 15 career catches. Canteen's emergence provided another option at the position, but a lot of question marks remain at wideout. Michigan is hoping Jehu Chesson, Csont'e York, Da'Mario Jones and Dennis Norfleet step forward, Amara Darboh successfully returns from injury and freshman Drake Harris can contribute. But there are few sure things. At running back, the team is hopeful that Derrick Green breaks out as a sophomore and De'Veon Smith joins him for a powerful duo. Again, though, it's mostly optimism and little track record at this point.
  • Enough leadership? Hoke has suggested that he wasn't thrilled with the leadership during last season's 7-5 team. He and the players have said that the chemistry and accountability have been good this spring. The fact remains, however, that this team has only 12 seniors, and only seven of them are position players who see the field a lot. Leadership will also have to come from the junior class and elsewhere if Michigan wants to get over the hump of mediocrity.
One way-too-early prediction

Jabrill Peppers immediately becomes the team's best defensive back. That's a bold call, as Peppers isn't even on campus yet. But he was the No. 2 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 for a reason, and he should be the kind of physical, cover corner that Michigan has lacked. The Wolverines could try him in several different positions, but if he's the real deal, he can start quickly at cornerback. Program insiders believe his ceiling could be in the Charles Woodson neighborhood. No pressure, kid.

Big Ten's lunch links

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
12:00
PM ET
I've been to Storrs. I don't know how UConn keeps doing it.

Spring game recap: Michigan

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
10:15
AM ET
Spring (practice) has officially sprung for Michigan, which became the first Big Ten team to hold its spring game on Saturday at the Big House.

An estimated crowd of 15,000 took in the festivities, which included a non-scoring scrimmage. You can find coverage of the game here, here and here. And here's a brief recap:

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Devin Gardner threw two interceptions and completed just two passes in the Wolverines' spring game.
Star of the game: Cornerback Jourdan Lewis had two interceptions on the day, though he was also whistled for two pass interference penalties.

How it went down: It was just a spring game, and as most teams are wont to do, the Wolverines kept things very vanilla for their first public practice session of the year.

Still, fans had hoped to see some inklings of progress, especially from the new offense led by coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who was hired away from Alabama in the winter. Players had talked about making more big plays in practice in Nussmeier's scheme.

There wasn't much evidence of that on Saturday. On the very first snap of the scrimmage, Devin Gardner was intercepted by Lewis in his own territory. Gardner -- still not 100 percent on his healing foot -- would finish just 2-for-10 for 53 yards, though he's in no danger of losing the job. Backup Shane Morris went 5-for-11 for 73 yards, and his final throw was also picked off by Lewis, who started at corner and made a nice impression in that competition. (He'll need to keep doing that this summer, since Jabrill Peppers is on the way).

"I definitely think we're going to be tighter on offenses this year," Lewis said afterward. "We are playing more man-to-man and we'll be closer to those guys to break it up or intercept it."

The one big play was a 44-yard strike from Gardner to Freddy Canteen, the early enrollee who has been the talk of the spring in Ann Arbor. He looks like the real deal and will likely earn a starting job at receiver.

The running game produced mixed results. De'Veon Smith got the most reps with the first unit, running nine times for 21 yards. Derrick Green added 16 yards on six carries, while Justice Hayes had six attempts for 33 yards. The offensive line, which included early enrollee Mason Cole as the first-team left tackle, struggled to open up holes and get a push up front. The defense registered five sacks, including one each from defensive linemen Frank Clark, Brennen Beyer and Willie Henry.

"Inconsistent" is how coach Brady Hoke described the offensive performance.

"I think there were a couple good runs in there that they did a pretty good job with," he said. "We needed to be a little more consistent in the protection game. Through the course of the 15 practices, I think there has been some real improvements made."

Hoke has maintained all along that a team depending on many freshmen and sophomores will need some time to come together. On Saturday, they showed that in several key areas.

"There's no question," Hoke said, "we need a lot of improvement."
The first Big Ten spring game of 2014 arrives on Saturday at the Big House. Here's a quick preview of what to expect from Michigan's spring fling.

When: Saturday, 2 p.m. ET

Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Admission: Free, though fans are encouraged to make donations to Mott Children's Hospital. Michigan Stadium gates open at 11 a.m., with an alumni flag football game scheduled to begin at noon. The men's lacrosse team will play Fairfield at 5 p.m.

TV: Big Ten Network (live)

Weather forecast: Partly sunny, with a high near 47. Winds 13 to 17 mph, with gusts as high as 28 mph.

What to watch for: Coach Brady Hoke said the Wolverines will hold about a 45- to 50-minute scrimmage after "a lot of individual grind work." Hoke said his team, which has only 12 seniors, still needs to work on its fundamentals in its 15th and final practice.

One position full of youth that will have a lot of eyeballs on it Saturday is the offensive line. It's a group full of freshmen and sophomores, but Hoke said he has seen improvement there. An encouraging performance by that unit in the spring game, even with as little as that means, could scale back some of the intense scrutiny and criticism.

Receiver is another spot with a lot of new faces, as Devin Funchess is the only proven returning player. True freshman Freddy Canteen has turned a lot of heads this spring in the slot, and fans will get their first look at him in a Michigan uniform. Fans will be curious to see the offense in general under new coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Hoke said about 80 to 85 percent of Nussmeier's offense has been installed this spring, and he said there were a lot of explosive plays in last weekend's scrimmage. The offense should include much more north-south running, and a slimmed-down Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith should lead the way.

On defense, the public gets its first view of the new linebacker arrangement, with Jake Ryan moving into the middle and James Ross III at the strongside spot. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has talked about a more aggressive approach that will feature more blitzing, but don't expect to see much more than the usual vanilla spring schemes.

Devin Gardner seems to have answered any questions about whether he'd retain the starting quarterback job by going through the spring on a foot that isn't 100 percent healed from the Ohio State game. Shane Morris and Wilton Speight should get plenty of reps on Saturday as well.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- On Friday, Michigan plans to unveil a new museum area inside Schembechler Hall. The centerpiece display is a glass case reaching from floor to ceiling that contains 910 footballs, or one for every Wolverines victory.

There is room in the case for at least a couple hundred more balls. It’s also safe to presume that the all-time winningest program in college football history expects to add more than seven of those per year.

But that’s how many Team 134 contributed in 2013 in a disappointing 7-6 campaign that ended with a thud in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
AP Photo/Tony DingThe 2013 season was a frustrating one for all involved in the Michigan program, as Brady Hoke and the Wolverines stumbled to a 7-6 record.
“That wasn’t a Michigan record,” senior linebacker Jake Ryan said.

It seemed almost quaint two years ago when Brady Hoke labeled the 2011 season -- one that included 11 wins and a Sugar Bowl title -- as “a failure” because the team didn’t capture a Big Ten championship. Since then, Hoke has flirted with actual failure, going just 15-11 in his second and third seasons as head coach.

As a result, Hoke made the first major staff shakeup of his tenure this offseason. He fired offensive coordinator Al Borges -- a move he called difficult because of their personal friendship -- and hired Doug Nussmeier from Alabama. He also switched around several defensive roles and took himself out of the defensive line coaching mix. Those moves signaled what had become obvious: Change was necessary to get Michigan back to being Michigan.

“Our first message to the players this offseason was to learn from going 7-6 on every front you can,” Hoke said. “That’s from how you prepared to how you came in the building every day.

“It’s the same thing with us as coaches. We talked a lot about us doing a better job with the fundamentals of playing the game and holding everybody to those expectations. And I think you always have to check yourself before you go anywhere else with it.”

Hoke hopes Nussmeier can help establish the true pro-style, physical offense that Borges could never quite take from vision to reality. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will coach the linebackers this season while Roy Manning and Curt Mallory will both work with the secondary, an idea Hoke said he got from talking to NFL coaches. Mattison wants to bring more pressure on defense this season, something the Wolverines didn’t do well in 2013. But with experience now in the front seven and incoming star recruit Jabrill Peppers potentially adding a lockdown cornerback, Michigan expects to go on the attack.

“In 2011, I think we had a much more aggressive style of defense,” Hoke said. “We probably got away from that a little bit.”

Perhaps the changes can finally answer last season's unsolved mystery: Who exactly are these Wolverines?

They were a wildly inconsistent crew that could set offensive records one week and fail to find the end zone the next. They nearly upset Ohio State in a thriller and lost four Big Ten games by just 11 points. But they also nearly lost to Akron, UConn and Northwestern and surrendered more than 40 points three times.

“Last year, we lacked an identity,” senior defensive end Frank Clark said. “This year, the main talk around here has been to develop an identity, as a defense especially. You look at every other top team across the country, and everybody either has a tough running game or a crazy pass game or a crazy defense. We want to go into a game and have our opponent say ‘Oh, man, it’s going to be a long day.’”

One of the main differences between his first team and the past two, Hoke said, was that the 2011 Sugar Bowl squad had “some fourth- and fifth-year guys who really understood what Michigan meant.” Leadership is a concern for this year’s team, which has only 12 seniors, though guys such as Ryan, Clark and quarterback Devin Gardner provide a great starting point. Hoke has taken his seniors to California for Navy SEALs training in the past and says he has some new ideas in store for this summer which he’s not yet ready to reveal.

The players and coaches are also trying to develop more of a competitive edge this spring.

“There’s definitely a different focus,” linebacker James Ross III said. “A lot of guys getting on each other, but it’s positive. Last year, I don’t think we had that as much. We’re holding each other accountable now, and I think we let a lot of things slide last year.”

Michigan’s success or failure in 2014 will ultimately depend on how quickly its young players, many of whom were decorated recruits, can develop. It says something about the state of the program that two guys who just enrolled in January -- receiver Freddy Canteen and offensive lineman Mason Cole -- have been among the standouts of the spring. The Maize and Blue are extremely green on offense, particularly up front on a line that has been a sore spot for the past two seasons. With tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield graduated, that group is now mostly comprised of freshmen and sophomores.

Hoke said the youth on the O-line is a remaining byproduct of the transition from Rich Rodriguez. You might recall that Rodriguez was fired in 2010 after going 7-6 in his third year. Athletic director Dave Brandon remains in Hoke’s corner, and Hoke says the only pressure he feels is the internal pressure to do right by all of his players.

Still, the message should be loud and clear when Hoke walks into Schembechler Hall every day. They don’t dedicate museum displays to teams that go 7-6.

“The atmosphere around this building now is that we’ve got to win,” defensive lineman Taco Charlton said. “That’s period, point blank, whatever we’ve got to do.”
With the graduation of Jeremy Gallon alone, Michigan lost nearly 43 percent of its receiving yardage and 27 percent of its receptions. Add Drew Dileo, Jeremy Jackson and Joe Reynolds’ contributions to those statistics and the Wolverines are looking to replace more than half of their receiving yardage from last season.

That’s no small feat and that means several reps and opportunities are open for younger guys to step up. Devin Funchess and Jake Butt return at tight end and will be targeted more as they gain chemistry with Devin Gardner and Shane Morris.

But as far as pure wide receivers go, the Wolverines are going to have to reach into the freshmen and sophomore classes next season as they look for production.

And wide receiver coach Jeff Hecklinski may not need to look any further than the 2014 class, which signed one receiver on Wednesday and had two early enroll in January.

Both Drake Harris and Freddy Canteen are on campus and will participate in spring practices. Maurice Ways, who signed his letter of intent on Wednesday, will enroll this fall.

Hecklinski said he sees a lot of athletic ability in all three wide receivers in the 2014 class. Specifically, Hecklinski pointed out Harris’ ball skills, which were helped by his basketball background. Harris had initially wanted to play both basketball and football in college, committing to Michigan State in June 2013 to do so. He later backed off that commitment, deciding to focus on football. Michigan believes it can use Harris as an X-receiver in a similar way that the Wolverines used Gallon this past season.

Canteen has a lot of speed in the open field and quickness off the ball. Because of his versatility, coaches believe they could use him at the Z-receiver, X-receiver or slot. And Ways, who comes in with a chip on his shoulder after being under-recruited, has a lot of size. At 6-foot-4, 193 pounds, Ways is the biggest WR in the 2014 class and because of his vertical-threat ability he’s projected as a Z-receiver.

It was the second consecutive class with three wide receiver signees. In the 2013 class the Wolverines signed Jaron Dukes, Da’Mario Jones and Csont’e York.

Jones played on special teams and York played in one game as a backup wide receiver, so they will both be sophomores during the 2014-15 season. Dukes redshirted and will still have four years of eligibility remaining.

“I think when you look at last year’s class and the three we added and you look at this year’s class and the three that we added, they’re different,” Hecklinski said. “You don’t want carbon copies of each other out there because then you get tied in to having just one guy.”

While those six will definitely be in the running for playing time, the two who seem to have the biggest jump will be Amara Darboh, who’s coming off a foot injury, and Jehu Chesson, who caught 15 passes this season for 221 yards and a touchdown.

Regardless, there are a lot of catches that are up for grabs and with two early enrollees in the 2014 class and one of the biggest wide receivers on the entire roster enrolling this fall, there’s a decent chance a true freshman receiver could hit the field.

“I think all three complement [one another],” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “And I know that all three of them, we were very excited to have.”
Brady Hoke will sign his fourth Michigan recruiting class Wednesday. Currently, the class sits at 16 commitments and the only real question mark still out there is defensive end Malik McDowell, who will chose between Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Florida State.

Hoke will address the media at 2 p.m. Wednesday, the first time he’ll be able to discuss these players publicly. Follow along on Twitter for updates throughout the day. Until then, here’s a primer to tide you over in your day-before-signing-day wait.

THE 2014 CLASS

Current ranking: No. 12 (16 commits)
Big Ten teams ahead of Michigan: Ohio State (No. 6, 22 commits)
Big Ten teams in the top 40: Penn State (No. 22, 24 commits), Wisconsin (No. 31, 27 commits), Northwestern (No. 35, 15 commits), Michigan State (No. 39, 20 commits)

Commits by position:

Quarterback: 1 | Wilton Speight*
Running back: 0
Wide receiver: 3 | Drake Harris*, Maurice Ways, Freddy Canteen*
Tight end: 1 | Ian Bunting
Offensive line: 2 | Juwann Bushell-Beatty, Mason Cole*
Defensive line: 3 | Bryan Mone*, Lawrence Marshall, Brady Pallante
Linebacker: 4 | Michael Ferns*, Noah Furbush, Chase Winovich, Jared Wangler
Defensive back: 2 | Jabrill Peppers, Brandon Watson
*denotes early enrollee, already signed letter of intent

WHAT TO KNOW

[+] EnlargeJabrill Peppers
Miller Safrit/ESPNThe Wolverines have been able to hang on to top cornerback Jabrill Peppers, which is no easy feat.
Dry spell: Michigan hasn’t received a commitment since Aug. 8, 2013 (Wangler). At that point, the Wolverines recruiting class was ranked No. 6 in the Recruiting Nation rankings. Between the on-field play during a 7-6 season and other teams stepping up their recruiting games, the Wolverines missed out on several top targets.

No. 1 at one time: Last April, when the 2014 class rankings debuted, the Wolverines were ranked No. 6. In May, Michigan climbed to No. 1. At that point, Michigan had nine commits, eight of whom were ranked in the top 150. Since that point, several Wolverines commits dropped in the rankings, and now they have nine commits in the ESPN 300. And when Michigan was the No. 1 class, the Wolverines were still in on several top recruits in the 2014 class. Of those big-name prospects, the only one to commit to the Wolverines was Peppers, the No. 1 cornerback in the country.

The players who chose other schools over Michigan were defensive end Da’Shawn Hand (Alabama), wide receiver Corey Holmes (Notre Dame), Alex Bars (Notre Dame), wide receiver Artavis Scott (Clemson) and defensive back Parrker Westphal (Northwestern). The most troubling part of that is how the Wolverines had personal connections with so many of those players. Holmes grew up a die-hard Michigan fan. Bars’ older brother is on the Michigan roster. Scott is best friends with Cole. Westphal’s high school position coach played at Michigan. And yet, the Wolverines missed on all of them.

Top commit: Peppers. Not only is he the most important commit from an on-field standpoint -- he should be an immediate contributor for a struggling secondary -- but the fact that a 7-6 Michigan team could keep the commitment from the No. 1 cornerback in the nation says a lot about the relationships that were formed. He had offers from Alabama, LSU, Ohio State and almost everywhere else. He could have left for any school. But the fact that the Michigan coaches were able to keep Peppers during a tumultuous season can be considered more of a coup than getting Peppers committed in the first place.

Lineage: Wangler. The name should sound familiar to most Michigan fans. John Wangler was a quarterback for Michigan (1977-80) and is most remembered for his 45-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Carter that gave the Wolverines a victory over Indiana in 1979. Jared’s older brother Jack, a walk-on wide receiver on Michigan’s roster, will be a sophomore when Jared enrolls.

More and more depth: Linebackers. It looks as though the Michigan linebackers group is going to get stronger. This season, that group was the most consistent defensive position group for the Wolverines, and now they’ll add four more quality players. Among Jake Ryan, Desmond Morgan, James Ross, Joe Bolden and Ben Gedeon, there won’t be much playing time for the taking, which means these players are going to be able to learn behind some very talented guys while also competing against them in workouts. Greg Mattison just keeps adding talent to the well he already has at linebacker, so look for this group to continue being the most consistent for the Wolverines in seasons to come.

[+] EnlargeBryan Mone
Courtesy of IntersportBy enrolling early, defensive tackle Bryan Mone could be in line for early playing time.
Early enrollees: 6. This is the second season in a row that Hoke has had six early enrollees. Last season, offensive lineman Kyle Bosch, offensive lineman Logan Tuley-Tillman, tight end Jake Butt, defensive end Taco Charlton, defensive back Ross Douglas and defensive back Dymonte Thomas enrolled early. Of those six, three were big contributors this past season, which bodes well for the six who came in early this year. Speight adds solid depth at quarterback, but he likely won’t need to contribute next season. Cole and Ferns are in similar positions in that they’re both talented, but because of the depth in front of them, it could take them longer to earn playing time. The two guys who could be the quickest to see playing time would be Harris or Mone, as both come in at positions that could use more bodies and talent. Both will have extra time with their position coaches and with the playbook.

No commits: Running back. The fact that the Wolverines aren’t bringing in a running back in this class isn’t a huge concern. Between Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith (and Drake Johnson, assuming he recovers well), the Wolverines are in good hands for the next few seasons. However, after losing the commitment of running back Damien Harris, the No. 1 running back in the 2015 class, there's a bit of a concern considering he was going to provide depth. Including Harris, Michigan has offered scholarships to three running backs in the 2015 class.
Michigan fired offensive coordinator Al Borges on Wednesday, which came as a surprise to fans and recruits alike. Wide receiver commit Maurice Ways (Beverly Hills, Mich./Country Day) didn’t know that Borges was fired until it happened and was shocked by the move.

“Wow, first off I’m surprised. It doesn’t really affect my recruiting,” he said. “I still think they’re going to hire someone that will fit my game and the offense, but I’m just in shock right now. I’ll have to wait and see who they hire, but Coach [Jeff] Hecklinski is still there and that’s who I’ll mainly be working with anyway.”
Michigan has seven early enrollees set to hit campus from its 2014 class.

Drake Harris (Grand Rapids, Mich./Grand Rapids Christian), Wilton Speight (Richmond, Va./Collegiate School), Michael Ferns (St. Clairsville, Ohio/St. Clairsville), Mason Cole (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake), Bryan Mone (Salt Lake City/Highland), Freddy Canteen (Elkton, Md./Eastern Christian Academy) and teammate Brandon Watson are all headed up to Ann Arbor to begin their new journey.

Speight, Harris, Ferns and Canteen answered a few questions on enrolling early and what is next for them.

Q: What are you most nervous about?

Wilton Speight: "A lot of people say school, but I went to such a tough high school that I’m not too worried about that. More of the winter workouts and the conditioning is absurd."


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Blue Chip Battles: ESPN 300 Update
National recruiting reporter Jeremy Crabtree breaks down the top three recruiting tugs-of-war for uncommitted four- and five-star recruits.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video