Michigan Wolverines: Taco Charlton
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.
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.”
Mail call ...
Lance from Mooresville, N.C., writes: Some hypotheticals for you in regards to the 2013 Spartans: 1. If Le'Veon [Bell] would have stayed, would MSU have won a national title? Or would MSU have used him as a crutch like it did in 2012. 2. If MSU would have beat tOSU in the BIG CCG by 20-plus points and not given tOSU the lead back in the third quarter, would it have gone to the NCG? 3) How crazy is it that the BCS came a year too late for U of M and they didn't get an outright national title, and the playoff came a year too late for MSU, and it didn't get a chance to play for one either.
Adam Rittenberg: 1. I don't think Le'Veon Bell, as good as he is, would have been the difference in Michigan State winning a national title. And as you note, it might have changed how the coaches approached the quarterback position. MSU needed to lean more on its QB, partly because Bell wasn't there, and it allowed for Connor Cook to emerge. 2. Maybe if Missouri had beaten Auburn, MSU could have vaulted into the No. 2 spot. There was a strong push to get the SEC champ in the game after the run of national titles, but Missouri didn't have the backing that Auburn did. 3. I guess the college football powers-that-be are anti-Mitten State. It's really too bad MSU didn't have a chance to participate in a playoff last year.
Puck from Chesapeake, Va., writes: What impact does Taco Charlton make the for Wolverines this fall? I want him to be a game-changer!
Adam Rittenberg: Puck, few young players impressed me more physically on my spring trips last year than Taco Charlton. Freshmen simply don't look like that very often. He got a small taste of game action last fall, appearing in 10 games as a reserve and recording two tackles. I'm interested to see if he makes a significant jump in Year 2. Michigan needs more pass-rushing production, and while Charlton is behind Brennen Beyer, he could have a bigger role. Frank Clark and Mario Ojemudia are on the other side and boast more experience, but I don't know if any Michigan defensive end has Charlton's physical gifts.
Leo from Philadelphia writes: I grew up in close proximity to both Maryland and Rutgers. I feel like I know what both schools represent (having lots of friends from each), and I can't see either being a rival to Penn State (for obvious reasons). I understand why people from those schools try to justify it, but in reality Penn State has no true rival in the B1G. Ohio State might be the closest thing, but at the end of the day it's not (for obvious reasons). If the Big Ten caters to it, Nebraska, Wisconsin or Michigan State have serious potential (mainly Nebraska). Thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: Leo, the only way Maryland or Rutgers becomes Penn State's rival is if one or both start beating the Lions on a regular basis. James Franklin's connection to Maryland makes that series more interesting, but I can't call it a rivalry until the Terps start winning. Penn State will see Ohio State, Michigan and MSU annually in the East Division, but all three programs have bigger rivals. A lot of Penn State and Nebraska fans wanted to see that series continue annually, but the division realignment makes it tough. Penn State might never have a true Big Ten rival. At least Pitt returns to the schedule in 2016.
Stephen from Mount Prospect, Ill., writes: Where do you stand on conference games beginning from Week 1? I think one of the more overlooked parts of the early part of the schedule is the effects it has on rankings and conference prestige. More early conference games will truly show who are the top teams. Look at the Michigan game when it lost to App State. It was the first game of the year, and the Wolverines were ranked fifth. It was a huge deal that they lost, and the perception was that the Big Ten was bad that season. If they played them at the end of the season with three losses, it wouldn't have been as big of a story.
Adam Rittenberg: Stephen, some really good points here. I've long been in favor of earlier conference games because they add some spice to those September Saturdays. No one like the Big Ten's MAC/FCS Invitational, which seems to take place one Saturday per season. Sprinkling in earlier league games, as we'll see in the near future, ensures the league remains somewhat relevant in the national discussion. But your point about early league games shedding light on which teams are good and which teams are not is very valid. I hate preseason polls and early-season rankings, but they would be slightly more accurate if teams faced stronger competition in September.
Al Baker from Lincoln, Neb., writes: It's Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, not Edwardsville, a much smaller satellite campus.
Adam Rittenberg: Actually, the Illinois state senators were referring to the Edwardsville campus, in the context of having a Big Ten candidate closer to a larger media market (St. Louis). Carbondale brings nothing to the Big Ten in terms of market. Same goes for Illinois State, Northern Illinois and most of the highly unrealistic candidates for Big Ten expansion. SIU-Edwardsville at least has location in its favor, but not much else.
THE BAD: The goal was to get a solid four-man rush, and the Wolverines never consistently achieved it in 2013. Michigan decided not to hire a D-line coach when Jeremy Montgomery left. Instead, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and head coach Brady Hoke took over the defensive line responsibilities. With those two leading the way, there was an assumption that this unit would have been more productive than they actually were. Michigan recorded 25 sacks (65th nationally, seventh in the Big Ten) and opposing quarterbacks completed 42 passes of 20 or more yards (69th nationally, eighth in the Big Ten). The sack totals are on the D-line. The long completions are shared by the defense as a whole, but it definitely would’ve been better if the defensive line had been able to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season.
THE FUTURE: Clark, along with Beyer, are the leaders of this group. They’ll probably be the two starting defensive ends. Taco Charlton is a name to keep track of as he’ll likely be a backup at both positions. Henry should look to be more productive inside and will spend the offseason gaining chemistry with Ondre Pipkins. Chris Wormley is another player who showed major potential and will be a big contributor in 2014, especially if the defensive line rotates as much as it did last fall. From the 2014 class, defensive tackle Bryan Mone enrolled early so he’ll have a jump start on the competition during spring football. At 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, he already has very good size for a tackle. By comparison, Henry is 6-foot-2, 306 pounds and Pipkins is 6-foot-3, 315 pounds.
However, Michigan’s participation in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 28 can be interpreted as a huge victory for the team, and specifically its youth.
Obviously, beating Kansas State will be put at a premium. But the coaching staff won’t overlook the fact that they’ll get extra practice time with the young players on this team.
There aren’t any special bowl-prep practice rules. Michigan can practice for the bowl as they did during the regular season -- 20 hours a week with a maximum of four hours a day.
And while Michigan isn’t going to scrap its depth chart and only work with the scout team over the next few weeks, it will be a huge opportunity for players who are lower on the depth chart or only played sporadically this season to get more repetitions.
Obviously, the offensive line had a bit of that throughout the season. Six freshmen and sophomores started at least one game this season, and while that created a lot of confusion and growing pains, left tackle Taylor Lewan preached about how much that would help the team in the next few seasons.
So during the next two-and-a-half weeks, young players such as Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson and Kyle Bosch will continue that growth. But it will be even more helpful as offensive line coach Darrell Funk is able to work with reserve player such as Ben Braden and Blake Bars or players who redshirted this season such as David Dawson and Patrick Kugler.
It’s the same story for the defense. Freshmen defensive backs Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling, linebacker Ben Gedeon and defensive lineman Taco Charlton each played this season, but during that time they were targeted by opposing teams from time to time specifically because they were freshmen.
And then there are players such as running backs Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith and tight end Jake Butt, who made large contributions by the end of the season, but didn’t really get the full season of experience as a first or second-stringer.
This cluster of practices will be like an extra three game weeks.
“A lot of these young guys have earned a right to play, and it didn’t start out the first week,” Mattison said. “It has been throughout the season, so every chance they get to play another game and to have this practice time is tremendous for us.”
While the 7-5 season isn’t what the Wolverines had hoped for, they’ll be able to use this as a new season going forward, a chance to go 1-0.
The fact that so many freshmen and sophomores played this fall shows how confident Hoke and his staff are in the job they’ve done on the recruiting trail.
“We’re very, very excited about our football team and we feel very strongly that the young men that we’ve recruited in the two or three years that we’ve been here now are the right young men,” Mattison said. “Now, it’s getting that experience. … You can’t put a price tag on these 15 more practices where you can gain on individual drills and become a smarter football player.”
Send your questions in and we’ll do a mailbag every Tuesday (Twitter: @chanteljennings, Email: jenningsESPN@gmail.com).
Berserk Hippo via Twitter: Is there light ahead on offense? What should make me feel better by offense next year versus now?
A: I think the growth we saw in the offensive line in just a week should give you a bit of hope. So much of the line is based on chemistry, and by the end of this season you’ll have a handful of guys who’ve had significant game experience on the line and an entire offseason to build that chemistry so that next fall they won’t have the growing pains they experienced this season. On top of that, Amara Darboh will return to the wide receivers next season, and I think he and Jehu Chesson could both be huge assets. And the run game, specifically freshmen Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith, should give you some hope for next season. They showed they have vision and they’re downhill runners.
And for everyone calling for Shane Morris to play ... Well, there’s now an entire spring season (which he wasn’t able to enroll for last year) and summer and fall camp for him to compete. Plus, Wilton Speight will be enrolling this January, so there will be a solid three-man race for that starting spot with Morris and Speight chomping at the bit and Devin Gardner being put under a lot of pressure.
Jake, Chicago: What are the chances Michigan can beat Ohio State?
A: Ohio State has the better, more consistent team. Is it possible that Michigan can win? Yes, it is possible. But the current Michigan pass rush isn’t going to faze Braxton Miller too much. The current run defense isn’t going to be the most difficult Carlos Hyde has seen. And the secondary needs to play its best coverage of the season in order to not allow Miller to make his throws. On the other side of the ball, the Buckeyes will likely throw a similar blitz scheme against the Wolverines as did the Spartans, and they’ll do their best to get after Gardner on every single down. And though the run game looked improved last week, Smith and Green (or Fitzgerald Toussaint) will have to play their best games of the year. If all that goes well, then yes, Michigan could win. Would it be the biggest outlier performance of the season? Yes, yes it would.
B Hugh via Twitter: How many snaps would one expect Taco Charlton to receive for the rest of the year?
A: I think we’ll see him for more snaps over the next two games. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison seems very high on his progress, and Frank Clark has kind of taken Charlton under his wing. On Tuesday, Mattison said Charlton is no longer playing like a freshman, so with the rotation up front and that kind of trust in Charlton, I think Mattison might try to mix him in a bit more.
Sam, DC: *Did Michigan gain or lose fair-weather fans by their overtime win at NU,?
A: Well, I suppose that depends on the definition of fair-weather fans. I feel like Michigan fans are huge fans and that even when they’re upset, they’re still loyal. However, if we’re talking about fans on the periphery who might tune in Saturday because of what they saw last week, then maybe there are a few. Obviously, a win helps (and Northwestern is better than its Big Ten record implies). However, even more so than the win, Drew Dileo's slide into the hold (#DileoPowerSlide was trending among Michigan fans, I believe) brought some eyes to the game. Any time you have a play like that, it draws people.
It doesn’t hold quite as much drama as last year’s season opener against Alabama, but it’s official. College football is back and here are five storylines to watch for as the Wolverines take the field.
1. Youth and inexperience on Michigan’s offensive line.
This really is one of Michigan’s biggest question marks heading into the season. Graham Glasgow, Jack Miller and Kyle Kalis combine for zero starts. Much of the offense’s success rests on how well the offensive line meshes. If these young guys don’t play more experienced than they are, it could be trouble. Michigan wants to go with a group rather than tweaking throughout the season and the Wolverines definitely don’t want to be tweaking the line the following weekend against Notre Dame, so these three need to be stout in the middle.
2. How much the Wolverines give away offensively
On Wednesday, Brady Hoke said they wouldn’t hold anything back against Central Michigan. “We got nothing to hide. We really don't,” he said. “We've got nothing to hide in what we do and how we do it. I think that is really overblown when you're trying to keep something that maybe they haven't seen.” Now, there’s definitely truth to what he said. The Wolverines are going to be who they are and coaches know that. But Devin Gardner also said that this is the thickest the playbook has been at this point in the season since he has been here. They obviously won’t put everything in this weekend, but I do think they’ll show some. Some of that will be to work kinks out but I don’t think it’s completely insane to say that some of that will be to keep Notre Dame on its heels. For example, two seasons ago, Borges and Hoke unveiled the deuce package -- Gardner and Denard Robinson in at the same time -- in a 58-0 rout of Minnesota. Did Michigan need to use that then? Nope. But it did. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it was two weeks before the Wolverines traveled to East Lansing to play Michigan State. There were definitely a few wrenches thrown in Mark Dantonio’s game plan.
3. The return of running back Fitzgerald Toussaint
Michigan coaches say he’s 100 percent. He says he’s 100 percent. Teammates say he’s 100 percent. We’ll finally be able to see on Saturday. It’s more and more common these days to see athletes, like Toussaint, return from gruesome injuries, but it’ll be interesting to see how the coaches use him, how he moves on the field and how he takes that first hit. If the Wolverines get an early lead, don’t expect to see too much of him though. Michigan is still working with its running back depth and with six guys on the depth chart, the coaches will be looking for who can really be that third-down back or who they can rely on to step in for Toussaint to give him a rest (or who could overtake him, really). It won’t be too crazy -- depending on the score -- if we do see three or four guys get carries as Michigan tests the waters with multiple guys.
4. CMU’s senior running back Zurlon Tipton
Other than having the best name of anyone playing Saturday, he could also be the best running back on the field. As a junior, Tipton rushed for 19 touchdowns and 1,492 yards on 252 carries. His hands are solid and he accounted for 24 receptions for 287 yards last season. He’s going to be the Chippewas’ best offensive weapon and the Wolverines are prepared for that, but whether they’ll be able to stop him is another subject entirely. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said Tuesday that Tipton is a "great cutback runner and he’s a very physical back. He earns a reputation. You watch him, he's running down the sideline and a lot of guys would step out of bounds. He turns back in to try and hit somebody." He should provide a test for the Michigan defense right out of the blocks.
5. The depth along Michigan’s defensive line
Mattison said Tuesday that he believes he has enough depth in the defensive line to run three-deep at each position. Obviously, we’d see more of guys like Jibreel Black, Quinton Washington and Frank Clark but don’t be too surprised if you do see second- or third-string players -- Willie Henry, Matt Godin, Taco Charlton, Mario Ojemudia -- getting into the game and making some plays. Mattison said he had this much depth once before, at Florida. The real test will come when we see if the second and third strings can get as much pressure, from a straight four-man rush, on the opposing QB. Because while Michigan might be able to run three deep against an offensive line and quarterback like Central, they might not be able to do the same against an Ohio State squad.
While Robinson’s replacement at quarterback, Devin Gardner, is set, much around him will be new or contested. Michigan will unveil a more fine-tuned version of the pro-style offense it ran last season with new linemen, new wide receivers and possibly a new running back to go with it.
The defense will be playing for the first time in the Brady Hoke era without Kenny Demens at middle linebacker and Jordan Kovacs at safety as the defensive anchors.
So here’s at some things to pay attention to over the next three weeks as Michigan prepares for its opener against Central Michigan on Aug. 31.
Top position battles
Running back: One of four positions on the Wolverines with no clear hierarchy entering camp, as any one of five players could potentially win the job. Redshirt senior Fitzgerald Toussaint is the incumbent, but is coming off a broken leg which ended his junior season. Freshmen Derrick Green and Deveon Smith could both see playing time and will likely compete with Toussaint for the majority of the carries. Junior Thomas Rawls, who has yet to show a true burst in two seasons, is another possibility if he has improved. The wild card here might be redshirt freshman Drake Johnson, who has track speed -- he was an elite high school hurdler -- and a good frame. He likely won’t win the job but could end up stealing carries.
Strong side defensive end: Keith Heitzman is likely entering camp as the leader here, but that’s a very tenuous lead at best. He has the most experience of the players competing at end, but the youth behind him will likely at least win a share of playing time. Chris Wormley, who, like senior Jibreel Black, could play both inside and outside, is a candidate here. Wormley was a player who many thought could have played as a true freshman last year before tearing his ACL. Two other redshirt freshmen, Matt Godin and Tom Strobel, are also candidates here. Much like what could happen at rush end with Frank Clark, Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton, you could end up seeing a three-man rotation here unless someone stands out heavily.
Defensive tackle: Quinton Washington is set at one position. The other, like the strong side end, is wide open. Like at end, Wormley and Black could make big moves here -- and Black might be the presumptive starter entering camp. Watch for Willie Henry to make a move. The redshirt freshman impressed last season’s seniors and he has the size to be a large complement to Washington. When Michigan goes jumbo, sophomore Ondre Pipkins, who will likely be in a rotation with Washington, could see time next to him.
Five reasons for concern
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It looked like Quinton Washington’s college career was never going to happen, the one-time highly touted prospect from South Carolina languishing on the offensive line and then deep in the defensive line depth his first three years at Michigan.
Even a season ago, it didn’t appear he would play much of a factor on the defensive line. Michigan had Will Campbell (now with the Jets) and some youth it felt really good about.
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So with that, let’s chat some football. Mike is taking care of the mailbag next week so send questions on to him, but let’s get to this week’s batch…
1. Dennis Seyfried, Ann Arbor: The defense has improved a lot since Greg Mattison got here. But should we temper expectations for this season?
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1. Which position battle are you most excited to see play out during fall camp?
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1. Generally speaking, at which position at the college level is it “easiest” to contribute as a true freshman?
Adam Rittenberg: Running back and wide receiver are the two that jump out. Some freshman running backs aren't physically ready to be significant contributors, but running back and receiver are spots where freshmen can use their natural skills to get on the field. There's learning to do at both spots, but not like what you see at quarterback, linebacker or safety. Unless you're named Jadeveon Clowney, linemen usually need at least one full offseason in the program to have a chance to be a significant contributor.
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2012 conference record: 6-2
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 3
QB Devin Gardner, WR Jeremy Gallon, TE Devin Funchess, LT Taylor Lewan, RT Michael Schofield, DT Quinton Washington, LB Desmond Morgan, LB Jake Ryan, CB Raymon Taylor, S Thomas Gordon
QB Denard Robinson, WR Roy Roundtree, OG Patrick Omameh, C Elliott Mealer, DE Craig Roh, DT William Campbell, LB Kenny Demens, CB J.T. Floyd, S Jordan Kovacs
2012 statistical leaders
Rushing: Denard Robinson (1,266 yards)
Passing: Denard Robinson (1,319 yards)
Receiving: Jeremy Gallon* (829 yards)
Tackles: Jake Ryan* (88)
Sacks: Jake Ryan* (4.0)
Interceptions: Thomas Gordon* and Raymon Taylor* (2)
1. Defensive line fine: Michigan had to replace a four-year starter in Craig Roh as well as defensive tackle Will Campbell up front. It doesn’t seem like it will be an issue. Michigan has a potential star in Frank Clark at rush end as well as depth at the position with Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton. Keith Heitzman, for now, seems to have locked up a spot at strong side end, but there is a lot of talent there, too. The Wolverines have depth at all four spots and while competitions will continue into the fall, Michigan should be able to rotate at defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s leisure.
2. Devin Gardner’s progression: After the way he played toward the end of last season, there was not much doubt about Gardner as the starter, but Michigan’s coaches appear happy with his growth throughout the offseason. He has developed as a quarterback the way the coaching staff has liked, and this is even more critical because he is the only healthy scholarship quarterback until Shane Morris arrives next month. Gardner's teammates believe in him and he is setting up for a big year.
3. Tight end weapons: Michigan still doesn’t have great depth at tight end, but what the Wolverines do have is a young group of guys who will become big targets for Gardner as the position evolves into a more featured role. Devin Funchess could have a breakout sophomore season and Jake Butt has a similar skill set. A.J. Williams slimmed down as well, perhaps turning him into more than just an extra blocker.
1. Who runs the ball: Michigan was never going to be able to answer this question in the spring with Fitzgerald Toussaint coming off a broken leg and freshmen Derrick Green and Deveon Smith still not on campus. But none of the running backs who participated in spring made a lasting impression on the coaches, meaning if he is healthy, Toussaint will likely receive the first chance at winning the job in the fall.
2. Can Jake Ryan be replaced: Michigan seems confident with its grouping of Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon at strongside linebacker, but part of what made Ryan Michigan’s best defender was his ability to instinctively be around the ball. Whether or not Beyer or Gordon can do that in games remains to be seen. If the combination of those two can approximate that, Michigan’s defense should be fine.
3. Can the interior of the line hold up: Michigan is replacing both of its guards and its center. While the combination of redshirt sophomore Jack Miller at center and redshirt freshmen Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis at guard has a ton of talent, none have taken a meaningful snap in a game before. How they mesh with returning tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, along with how they connect with each other on combination blocks on the inside, could determine not only Michigan’s running success this fall, but also how many games the Wolverines win in Brady Hoke’s third season.
These, though, aren’t so bad.
Michigan has significant depth -- albeit some inexperience -- at every spot on its defense. This allows the Wolverines to come closer to reaching defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s goal of being able to rotate players at both defensive line and linebacker to keep them fresh for later in games and later on in the season.
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Michigan Outlook: 2014
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