Michigan Wolverines: Michigan football

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- James Ross III didn’t expect to play much the first game last season. Special teams, sure, but on the actual defense against Alabama, the linebacker’s head was stuck in high school.

So imagine his surprise when his coaches turned to him during Michigan’s season-opener last season and told him he was going in.

This was his introduction to college football, complete with moments that still stick out almost a year later as he moves from a situational role player to a full-time starter on Michigan’s defense.

James Ross
Lon Horwedell/Icon SMIJames Ross III was able to rely on physical tools as a freshman in 2012. Now he is focusing on a better understanding of Michigan's schemes.
“I’m on the sideline and the coaches tell me to get in,” Ross III said. “I’m like, ‘OK.’ I just look around the stadium and it’s packed. Has the big old jumbo screen going on. Ahh, it was, I don’t know.

“That offensive line was a pretty big deal, too. It’s real.”

Ross III, an undersized linebacker at 5-foot-11, already had this experience down. A month earlier at the start of fall camp, he looked at Michigan’s offense and saw offensive linemen all standing 6-foot-3 or bigger and realized he wasn’t playing in Michigan’s Catholic League anymore.

Plus, his knowledge of what defenses Greg Mattison wanted to run was minimal and it ended up being somewhat surprising Ross III played much at all. He was able to mask his lack of understanding by his instincts. He didn’t know all the plays, but he listened to what former Michigan linebacker Kenny Demens recited in the huddle, repeated it as if he knew what he was doing and then would go and try to make a play.

By the end of the season, Ross III said he knew about 75 percent of what Michigan was doing.

He had 36 tackles, a half-sack and 2.5 tackles for loss last season. He also started two games when Desmond Morgan was injured and made enough of an impact that the coaches moved Morgan to middle linebacker this spring to make sure Ross III played more this fall. Beyond that, Michigan’s coaching staff is pressuring him to be more active than last season and make sure he understands things better.

“He has, I think, pretty good instincts,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “… I thought, we thought, that there’s more we could get out of him so we’re putting a lot of that pressure, a lot of the challenge to him to do a little better job getting off blocks and there’s times when you don’t need to take on the block.

“So just making the football itself the issue.”

Last season it wasn’t. There were playbook and communication issues and there was the adjustment to college football in general. Thus far this fall, the adjustments have been more subtle.

Instead of understanding the concept of the plays, he has focused on making sure his alignment is correct. Instead of relying on his teammates to announce and break down the play, he is starting to grasp everything on his own.

He’s even learning to use his size -- strong but short -- to his advantage.

“Being able to read a little better,” Ross III said. “Just like it’s difficult looking at a smaller running back, you can’t really see him so you can get lost a little bit in the shuffle. But those guys, we are shuffling downhill and trying to maintain our gaps so we aren’t shuffling around them.

“We have to go through them.”

Doing that isn’t an issue for Ross. He has always been a big hitter and strong for his size. His body, which didn’t look like a typical freshman when he entered camp a year ago, has continued to improve.

Now everything else is catching up.
Jeremy GallonAndrew Weber/US PressiwireJeremy Gallon will try to become the 10th Michigan receiver to reach 1,000 yards in a season.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Jeremy Gallon brushed the question off, the entire premise actually. He insisted a 1,000-yard season would not be a big deal for him.

He focused his answers on what he could do for Michigan’s team, about helping the younger receivers the way Junior Hemingway and Roy Roundtree assisted him when he was a freshman.

Eventually, he couldn’t hold it in any more. Yeah, hitting 1,000 yards receiving in his final season at Michigan would mean something to him.

“It’ll mean a lot, but it’s just me wanting to come out and do whatever for my team,” Gallon said. “Stats and me catching the ball are the least of my concerns at this point.”

Fair, except he is the only one who believes it. His position coach, Jeff Hecklinski, publicly said it is a goal Gallon should shoot for. His former teammate, Roundtree, started pestering Gallon about 1,000 yards before last season even ended.

Michigan wide receivers know the importance of a four-digit season.

“A thousand yards is a big deal for anyone,” senior receiver Drew Dileo said. “It’s a big deal for Junior Hemingway, Roy Roundtree, Braylon Edwards.”

It is a big enough thing for the Wolverines that two of those guys -- Hemingway and Roundtree -- never got there. Edwards is one of two Michigan receivers, along with David Terrell, to have more than one 1,000-yard season. Edwards is also the single-season receiving yards holder, with 1,330.

The 1,000-yard receiving mark is an elusive one at Michigan despite the school's litany of big-name receivers. In school history, there have only been 12 1,000-yard seasons, spread among nine players.

Gallon is attempting to become the 10th. The good news for him if he does: The other nine all had at least brief careers in the NFL. The bad news: Other than Desmond Howard, all were prototypical professional receivers when it came to size.

Gallon, a fifth-year senior, was almost an afterthought in his first two seasons at Michigan. The change in coaching staff from Rich Rodriguez, who recruited him, to Brady Hoke could have been problematic. Hoke and his staff wanted to move to a pro-style offense featuring the big, tall receivers Michigan traditionally featured.

The 5-foot-8 Gallon is not that, and he easily could have been dismissed as another small receiver the staff was unsure of what to do with. Instead, he has the potential to turn into one of the top receivers in school history.

If that 1,000-yard season happens, he’ll finish his career in the top five in career receiving yards at Michigan. Depending how many catches it takes, he could end up in the top 10 in receptions, too.

“It’s a realistic benchmark for him,” Michigan receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski said. “If he reaches that plateau, then we’re moving the ball and we’re doing good things offensively. If he doesn’t reach that plateau, then we are probably struggling.

“I think it’s a good benchmark for us, too, because he is a guy on the outside that we need to make plays.”

In the past five seasons at Michigan this has never been an emphasis. It has been the read option or the reflexive reliance on Denard Robinson’s legs that has provided the offensive impetus for Michigan.

With Robinson gone and Michigan moving to a pro-style offense in which play action and downfield passing will be featured, Gallon’s role becomes more important.

The last Michigan receiver to gain 1,000 yards was Mario Manningham in 2007 (1,174).

Since then, Roundtree came the closest with 935 yards in 2010.

“For a personal goal for him [Gallon], I think he’s saying Michigan is used to having thousand-yard receivers and guys who are used to making plays like that,” Hecklinski said. “I think he’s seeing that as his goal, that he is having the opportunity to put himself in the same conversation as some of those guys.

“There are some huge names in there.”

WolverineNation Mailbag 

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Football season, you are so close. Teams are in pads. Scrimmages are happening. Kickoff of the first week of the season is less than three weeks away.

This means more questions about actual football in this week’s mailbag. If you have questions next week, send them to Chantel at @chanteljennings on Twitter or jenningsespn@gmail.com through the electronic mail.

Now on to your questions this week.

@saltybarb22 from The Den asksL Who is being developed for the tackle spots behind Taylor (Lewan) and (Michael) Schofield?

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It took Erik Gunderson a month to learn anything about his best friend at Michigan, Michael Schofield. Schofield’s bookend tackle, Taylor Lewan, is still learning new things daily about his redshirt senior classmate.

His offensive line coach, Darrell Funk, is just glad Schofield is talking now.

“He’s finally passed the 50-word mark in two years,” Funk said. “He said about eight words the first year. He’s up to a little over 50 now.”

Schofield, entering his second season as Michigan’s right tackle and third year starting on the offensive line, is the antithesis of the Wolverines’ more well-known, publicized left tackle, Lewan.

[+] EnlargeMichael Schofield
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesRight tackle Michael Schofield prefers the spotlight on left tackle Taylor Lewan.
Lewan soaks in attention like a surfer hunts for the big wave. Schofield, by comparison, would stay on the beach. He has no interest in being in the spotlight. Michigan, per the school’s policy, said Schofield declined an interview request on behalf of his parents for this story.

“I’m kind of a shy guy in general,” Schofield said, and he used shy to describe himself every time he was asked. “I don’t really mind not being in the spotlight. I kind of like that Taylor is in the spotlight so I just kind of sit back.

“I don’t really mind at all.”

It’s why, on Michigan’s media day on Sunday, the 6-foot-7 Schofield crammed next to fellow offensive linemen Kristian Mateus and Gunderson on a bench, reporters occasionally approaching him. Lewan held court in a corner with multiple reporters and television cameras. Schofield noticed, shrugged and laughed.

He enjoys being somewhat unknown as Michigan’s other redshirt senior offensive tackle with NFL ambitions.

“I just recently started finding out things,” Lewan said. “I knew he had a huge family, dad is a firefighter. He wants to be a PE teacher. He doesn’t want that large and glamorous life.

“He just wants to live his life and be happy.”

Happiness for Schofield is surrounded by family, with four sisters, his parents and a younger brother, Andrew, who is an offensive lineman at the University of South Dakota. He never sought the spotlight as a kid with the crush of siblings around him. Even if he wanted it, he’d have to share it.

He hung with Andrew, competing at everything from checkers (Michael insists he’s better) to Super Smash Brothers on Nintendo 64, where Andrew’s Link usually destroys Michael’s preferred character of Pikachu the Pokemon.

The family life extends to the holidays the two middle Schofield children miss. With Andrew and Michael gone every Thanksgiving, their mother, Kathy, began a new tradition, now three years old.

“Schogiving” is a giant Thanksgiving party in either late July or early August, depending when the Schofield boys report to football camp. The party ballooned to 50 people this year with at least 15 pounds of pork tenderloin, a 35-pound turkey and a 20-pound ham. The food is prepared by Kathy in the Schofield kitchen.

“She kind of made up a holiday,” Schofield said. “She wanted to do it. Our whole family is there. She wanted to make a giant dinner and it became our entire family and friends.”

Kathy did this because fall Saturdays are spent following Michael and Michigan. At least one family member will usually attend Andrew’s games.

Over the past three seasons, the Schofields have seen their son mature from a first-time left guard to an NFL prospect at right tackle. Schofield realized the NFL was a possibility last season after he went up against Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt.

Then, in the Outback Bowl, Lewan cramped up and missed a few plays. Schofield slid from right to left tackle and hung in for a handful of plays against South Carolina’s superstar, Jadeveon Clowney. Those two performances helped give him NFL hopes as well.

It also forced Schofield to realize if he wanted to become a pro, he needed to focus on every opponent like he did Tuitt.

“My redshirt sophomore year, I would always get hyped playing the bigger-name guys,” Schofield said. “Then middle of last year I started to realize I had to dominate whoever I am going against.”

It is a lesson carrying into this season, where for the first time Schofield might go from anonymous bookend to a player recognized on his own merits. Not that it’ll change him at all.

“I’m not going to go out of the way to get attention, I guess,” Schofield said. “I’m just going to stay in the background and just do my thing.”

Backup QB a battle at Michigan

August, 9, 2013
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- As Michigan moves its camp into padded practices the rest of the way, the Wolverines will be able to start to really discern which position battles are actually competitions and which are going to be wrapped up rather quickly.

[+] EnlargeBrian Cleary
Courtesy of Michigan Athletic DepartmentBrian Cleary is going toe-to-toe with Michigan's heralded QB recruit for the backup job.
Of a lengthy list of position competitions for a team still finishing its rebuilding stages in its third year under Brady Hoke, perhaps the second most-important battle lies between two players who might see less than 25 snaps combined this season.

The backup quarterback.

When Russell Bellomy tore his ACL in the spring, Michigan’s quarterback depth turned into junior starter Devin Gardner and then a morass of inexperience. Competitors either were not on campus yet (freshman Shane Morris) or had never played a meaningful snap (walk-ons Brian Cleary and, less so, Alex Swieca). And once Michigan declined to sign a junior college or fifth-year transfer, that became the lot behind Gardner.

An open competition with no player really having any advantage over the other. Four days in, it's still neck-and-neck between Cleary and Morris.

“They are both doing really well, splitting the two reps,” Gardner said. “If one guy made a great pass, the next guy will make a great pass again so I’m glad I’m not the coach. I can’t really decide which one.”

The decision will eventually come to Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges. Coming out of the spring, Cleary established himself as the backup, but Morris had been around the program even as a high school recruit at nearby De La Salle High in Warren, Mich. He didn’t enroll early but had been prepping for this moment since he committed almost two years ago.

The long-term commitment, plus his locale, allowed him be on campus often to pick up things from his coaches. He isn’t the first Michigan quarterback to do this. Gardner enrolled early in 2010. Drew Henson, perhaps Michigan’s most famous quarterback recruit in history, spent his afternoons in the spring of 1998 on campus trying to learn the playbook before his freshman year.

So Morris is not the typical freshman. He understands things a bit more.

“I would say he is (ahead of the curve),” Hoke said. “It’s great to have a smart quarterback. Being a smart quarterback and being a wise quarterback under heat time with guys chasing you around and decisions you make, that’s two different things.

[+] EnlargeShane Morris
Miller Safrit/ESPNShane Morris has taken advantage of living close to campus to get a head start on school.
“That’s what we’ll see more of from this point on.”

Thus far, Michigan has seen fairly accurate passers. Gardner said the three quarterbacks -- himself, Cleary and Morris -- completed almost every pass in a recent 7-on-7 drill. And while defenders can pick up obvious differences between Gardner and the two backups, the difference between Morris and Cleary is negligible.

“Devin has really come into his role, playing with the game experience he had last year,” middle linebacker Desmond Morgan said. “Shane’s just a freshman coming in. Brian’s a guy who didn’t play in any games or anything last year.

“So just the comfortableness of being in and seeing the defense, things like that.”

This is Michigan’s situation right now. In one aspect, it is good for the Wolverines because two inexperienced quarterbacks are forced to receive more of a chance than they would have if Bellomy had not torn up his knee in the spring.

It forced Michigan into an uncomfortable position -- but one which will give two unknowns more reps than they ever would have received before. Plus, with Gardner as the entrenched starter with no chance of movement unless there is an injury, Michigan can take its time making its decision of who would go in if Gardner ever has to go out.

“I would say because you do know the guy who you are expecting to start the season with,” Hoke said. “You in some ways can give a few more snaps to that competition area where who is number two.”
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- After Taylor Lewan made the decision to return to Michigan instead of leaving for the NFL, the left tackle called a team meeting. Not, however, with the team you might think.

The men he brought together in January didn’t play Saturdays. They were the ones who did the preparation for it. He wanted to spend his final year at Michigan treating his strength training and nutrition as if he were in the NFL.

“He kind of initiated it,” Michigan strength coach Aaron Wellman said. “He said, ‘I want to be elite. What do I need to do to become elite from a nutrition standpoint?’ “

[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI Taylor Lewan was already an All-American with 35 career starts, but found room to improve in his offseason workouts.
Lewan was already considered elite in games. Had he left after last season, he would have been a first-round NFL draft pick. But his training and food discipline needed improvement and he knew it.

The shift started with a trip to a local grocery store. Joel Totoro, the nutritionist Michigan hired in 2012 from the New England Patriots, went with Lewan. They walked down every aisle. Lewan asked about various foods.

Totoro told Lewan it was something he could always, sometimes or never eat, depending on nutritional value. Since Totoro can’t provide Lewan with multiple meals daily due to NCAA rules, Lewan wanted to learn so he could start planning meals, learning how to cook and to create a full nutritional plan.

“It is more than just, ‘Here, here are some healthy foods,’” Totoro said. “You usually end up getting chicken breast and broccoli every day and that gets monotonous and they don’t stick with it. So give him the education and tools to make his own decisions, that’s how I do it.

“That’s real life. It’s there. It’s overwhelming because they’ve never had to do that. But once they get there and they are like, ‘What if I do that,’ you see the learning process start to happen.”

Even though he can’t physically feed them, Totoro’s phone is constantly on. Lewan and other Michigan players have called him from the supermarket. Or they took pictures of menus to receive advice on ordering.

No player latched on more than Lewan. Lewan doesn’t have specific caloric goals as they depend on the day’s activities, but generally he needs to ingest a half-gram to gram of protein per pound. For the 315-pound Lewan, this means between 157 to 315 grams of protein a day. A typical chicken breast might have 30 grams of protein.

Lewan said he consumed 12 hard-boiled eggs a day, chicken, steak and salad. In between meals, he will have two cans of tuna. Carbs come after workouts. With each meal he’ll add olive oil, which adds calories so he can reach his daily allotted amount.

The diet allowed for faster recovery time between workouts, giving him more chances to work out. Then, he could build explosiveness and strength with Wellman.

But the change has been tough for someone who is still a college student.

“It sucks. It’s awful. The diet is rough,” Lewan said. “When you go out with your friends and they order pizzas and wings, I look at that and I’m salivating. I’m looking at it and am excited about it.

“I go to Buffalo Wild Wings and order a salad and five chicken breasts. I swear that’s what I do. They are like, ‘I don’t think we can do that.’ I’m like, ‘No, if you go to menu, there’s a button that says chicken breast.’ I found that out somehow.”

Lewan said he has lost five percent of his body fat since January. His biggest gains came with Wellman. Lewan asked Wellman in January where his strength could improve.

Wellman replied explosion and power. He already benched more than 400 pounds and squatted over 500 pounds. With his new diet, which emphasized when he ate as much as what he did, his production increased.

He often worked with skill position players on different exercises, aiming for shorter sets -- usually no more than five repetitions -- with full range of motion to increase explosion. The goal wasn’t weight but the speed he in which completed the repetitions. If he dropped below 90 percent of the max set speed on an exercise, he lowered the weight.

In July, Lewan used Keiser exercise equipment -- a pneumatic weight system instead of barbells or weighted plates. Over the summer, Wellman and his staff tracked and charted every rep.

Wellman said Lewan’s biggest gains came in lower body explosion. So this shouldn’t surprise. Wellman wanted Lewan to move the weight he lifted 1.6-to-1.8 meters per second on the Keiser squat machine.

By the end of the summer, he moved 630 pounds of resistance at 1.7 meters per second, which Wellman said created 5,000 watts of power. He did all of this from a dead stop at the bottom of the squat pushing up.

“Those numbers won’t mean anything to most readers,” Wellman said. “But those are elite numbers. Not many guys in the country can do that.”

Not many guys in the country can do a lot of the things Lewan can, from the way he lifts to how he blocks people fall Saturdays. The one thing he hasn’t done is win, which makes this shift in lifestyle not very difficult at all.

“If you keep your goals intact, you know what you’re working for,” Lewan said. “I know what I’m working for. I have individual goals but my why is the Big Ten championship.

“You know that and the temptation is not that hard. My focus is to be the meanest, most aggressive, best technique offensive lineman every single down.”

The discipline he showed during his offseason makeover, and the amount of chicken he has eaten, will only accentuate that.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Every Michigan offensive play has a little bit of magic to it. Seriously. Not Criss Angel stuff. Something more intricate.

Try the sleight of route.

In his third year as Michigan’s wide receivers coach, Jeff Hecklinski teaches all of his receivers to leave the line of scrimmage the same no matter the play. Run? Pass? Doesn’t matter. Make like you are running a route.

Try, actually, to go deep. Be so precise, so similar, opposing corners and safeties are unsure of what is coming. Get them to start backpedaling or, better still, turn to cover a deep route.

Then, Michigan’s receivers know they have accomplished exactly what they needed.

[+] EnlargeDrew Dileo, Jeremy Gallon
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireMichigan wide receivers Drew Dileo (26) and Jeremy Gallon (10) are hoping more end-zone celebrations will result from blocking for each other this fall.
The importance of this will only increase for Michigan as its offensive philosophy shifts to a pro-style offense predicated on the success of play-action sells from the quarterback and receivers.

Opponents have noticed the blocking. Defensive backs understand facing Michigan’s receivers will be tougher. Not because of their skills, but because of what they do without the ball.

“They act as if they are more excited to block than they are to catch a pass,” Minnesota safety Brock Vereen said. “Sadly, I’m not even exaggerating.”

This starts in the preseason, when Hecklinski has 15 minutes daily to work with his receivers. Half of each session, his receivers will not touch a ball.

Instead, he will motion to the usual offensive linemen tool, the five-man sled. Most college receivers know how to catch. Many run crisp routes. At Michigan, blocking passes all of that.

Blocking at Michigan, Hecklinski explains, is the easiest path to playing.

“We’ll do some two-man sled work, do some five-man sleds, hit some bags,” Hecklinski said. “A lot of the same things the offensive line does. The offensive line, they train to block every day. We can incorporate those drills into the stuff we do.”

Hecklinski rarely sees live what he teaches accomplished in games. Perched in the coaches’ box, his in-game job is to watch the interior of the offensive line against the linebackers, so he only knows the exploits of his receivers when they tell him on the headset between series. They’ll celebrate pancaking a cornerback or hitting their general goal of combined double-digit knockdowns every game.

Hecklinski reviews receiver tape the next day. Based on what he watches -- and how beat up his players are -- he’ll taper the blocking work back to one session a week as long as the results are showing up in games.

By then, Hecklinski’s message reached his players.

“A lot of wide receivers won’t use all that energy,” Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen said. “Like if it is a running play to the other side, why do I need to run full speed? Why do I need to go cut this safety off? People like Denard [Robinson] was probably very happy he had receivers like Roy Roundtree and [Jeremy] Gallon last year. He got 50- and 60-yard runs because the corners were never able to go in on the run.”

Hecklinski’s blocking mantra, always based on hitting hard, evolved as he moved with Brady Hoke from Ball State to San Diego State and then to Michigan. At Ball State, he said, he used to teach his receivers to cut block consistently.

Hecklinski removed cut blocking upon arrival at Michigan for two reasons. First, a shift in blocking rules in college football made cut blocking a riskier choice with penalties. The second dealt with the ability of the defensive backs his receivers faced.

This began at Ball State and became clearer when the staff put together in the MAC and Mountain West reached the Big Ten.

“They are like those Weeble Wobbles that you had growing up,” Hecklinski said. “You can throw a great cut and he’s right back up making a play and golly, that’s a great cut.

“You got him down, took his legs out and then he pops back up it’s a three-yard gain. So we took all cut blocking out of it.”

Now, he wants his players to act as boxers on the perimeter. He uses analogies to other sports but this is a favorite. He wants his receivers to treat each play as a mini-boxing match.

“I’m going to try and throw my right uppercut as hard as I can and we’re going for the knockout punch every time,” Hecklinski said. “I’m trying to Mike Tyson you in the first round.”

Start with an initial rope-a-dope. Hit as hard as you can. Try to run through the chest or shoulders of a defensive back. Blow him up. Knock him down.

It’s simple, really. If Michigan is successful, what starts at deception fast turns into big-play blocking devastation.
Braylon EdwardsTom Pidgeon/Getty ImagesBraylon Edwards in 2003-04 was the last Michigan receiver to wear the No. 1 jersey.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- At some point in the future, a Michigan wide receiver will wear the famed No. 1 jersey.

The question now is when.

“Eventually, someone is going to wear the No. 1,” Michigan receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski told ESPN.com this week. “I don’t know who it is going to be, because somebody has to be good enough and earn it that way.

“But again, eventually, that’s going to happen at some point in time.”

Hecklinski was quick to add he did not know if that would happen this season, next season or at a point beyond that. The No. 1 jersey has not been worn by a Michigan receiver since Braylon Edwards wore the number in 2003 and 2004.

In all, six Michigan receivers have worn the number: Anthony Carter (1979-1982), Greg McMurtry (1986-1989), Derrick Alexander (1990-1993), Tyrone Butterfield (1994-1996), David Terrell (1998-2000) and Edwards.

All but Butterfield played in the NFL.

“When you get it, there’s a certain thing that goes with it,” Terrell said. “Now adding all that extra stuff into it, it wore it down, man. Now, let’s see what happens. If they go and do it, they know the ones. Coaches know. Lloyd (Carr) picked me for it. I don’t think they were wrong.

“They know how to pick things. These people know what their job is.”

[+] EnlargeJeremy Gallon
Jesse Johnson/US PresswireJeremy Gallon is the best receiver on the current Wolverines roster. Could he switch numbers?
Hecklinski, though, said the No. 1 jersey isn’t something that will be promised during recruiting.

“It’s earned,” Hecklinski said of the jersey. “I don’t control that. Coach (Brady) Hoke doesn’t control that. You’ve got to earn that. Your play dictates that. Coach Hoke has a say on it, but he doesn’t say, ‘Oh, I think this could happen or think that could happen.’

“We just watch you play. It’s the same thing when people say is a kid going to redshirt? We don’t determine that. If he’s ready to play, he’s going to play. If he’s not ready to play, he’s going to redshirt. So that’s where I think, there are things that are earned throughout your career. Those are goals you should have.”

Between its current roster and recruiting, Michigan has several viable candidates for whenever the school chooses to dust off the No. 1.

Senior Jeremy Gallon is one of the best blocking receivers in the Big Ten and has the potential for a 1,000-yard season this year. In its 2014 recruiting class, Michigan has a commitment from the No. 8 wide receiver and No. 72 overall prospect, Drake Harris (Grand Rapids, Mich./Grand Rapids Christian). In the 2015 class, the No. 1 athlete and No. 3 player overall in the ESPN Junior 300, George Campbell (Tarpon Springs, Fla./ East Lake), has also verbally chosen the Wolverines.
Fitzgerald ToussaintLon Horwedell/Icon SMIFitzgerald Toussaint has been Michigan's starting tailback the last two seasons. But a broken leg suffered last year, along with talented youngsters behind him, has him in a fight for his job.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- As Denard Robinson adjusts to his new role as an offensive weapon playing a little bit of everywhere in Jacksonville, Michigan officially will begin its A.D. era as camp opens this weekend.

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

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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. -- Devin Gardner’s future -- at Michigan, in football -- was an enigma a season ago. Would he be a quarterback? A wide receiver? Could he realistically transition from throwing passes to catching them and if he did, would he be the deep threat Michigan was missing.

He was, kind of. Gardner proved to be a capable wide receiver last season, but when Denard Robinson injured the ulnar nerve in his right arm, ending his time as a quarterback, Michigan and Gardner found the deep passing threat it had lacked since Brady Hoke and Al Borges took over at Michigan.

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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. -- 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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During Brady Hoke's run through the Big Ten coaches ESPN car wash on Thursday, the third-year Michigan coach spent some time with Ivan Maisel to chat on the college football podcast.

Among the things Hoke said Thursday that he felt "in my gut," that star offensive tackle Taylor Lewan was going to stay at Michigan for his final season. He also touched on Devin Gardner, the end of the Notre Dame series and what games Michigan might look to down the road.

Oh, and since Hoke has been 10 years old, he's called Ohio State "Ohio." Said he started liking Michigan then to be different from his friends, who all rooted for Ohio State.

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan is ranked right around where it should be in the preseason coaches poll.

The Wolverines landed at No. 17 in the poll, just ahead of No. 18 Nebraska and a few slots ahead of No. 22 Northwestern, another divisional rival. They are the second Big Ten team in the poll, behind No. 2 Ohio State.

With questions at running back (who will run the ball?), wide receiver (who, other than Jeremy Gallon, will catch it?), the interior of the offensive line (three new starters there), the defensive line (not much experience, even from fifth-year senior Quinton Washington) and the running game, there is a lot which remains to be seen.

Michigan has the talent and a favorable schedule to have a strong season and could end up ranked the entire season, but right now there are not enough certainties to label Michigan a top 10 team.

Among the Wolverines’ opponents, they will face the No. 2 (Ohio State), 11 (Notre Dame), 18 (Nebraska) and 22 (Northwestern) ranked teams in the poll. Of those games, all but one, Notre Dame, are in November.
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. -- When Devin Gardner was a freshman and a sophomore, he would often look for wide receivers to practice with him so he could keep sharp as he had to wait behind Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson for a chance to play.

Getting receivers to work with the backup wasn’t always easy, but one player would show up more than most, would help out more than most. So to understand why Gardner and Jeremy Gallon appear so comfortable with each other on the field is not happenstance.

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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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