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Head full of doubt, road full of promise: Michigan preview 2015

Monday, August 31st, 2015


Harbaugh(Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

With tremendous excitement surrounding the Michigan football program I felt it was fitting to spice up this year’s season preview. So instead of a simple paragraph and score prediction for each game, I’m pairing each game with an Avett Brothers song. In my opinion, they’re the best band out there right now, and certainly one of the most talented.

Growing up in the Midwest, it was hard to find someone that didn’t like country music, but that was me. Even now, I don’t. But while Barnes & Noble sells the Avett Brothers’ albums in the country section, they’re so much more than that. Their Americana blend of bluegrass, country, punk, folk, rock, and ragtime creates a unique sound the keeps getting better, even while every other band on the planet is beating banjos to death.

Sure, the Avett Brothers have nothing to do with Michigan, but they will visit Ann Arbor on Nov. 6 to perform at the Hill Auditorium. Since we’re fans of their music, Sam and I paired an Avett Brothers song with each game on Michigan’s schedule.

Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise

There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light
In the fine print they tell me what’s wrong and what’s right
And it comes in black and it comes in white
And I’m frightened by those who don’t see it 

When nothing is owed, deserved or expected
And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected
If you’re loved by someone you’re never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it

There was a dream
And one day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it
And there was a kid, with a head full of doubt
So I’ll scream till I die or the last of those bad thoughts are finally out

Heading into the 2015 season we get a perfect dichotomy of doubt and promise. Michigan fans are battered and bruised after the last seven years, most recently a 5-7 season that had one of the worst offenses in program history. That offensive ineptitude — which spans the past two seasons –leaves us weary of getting our hopes up. We’ve heard it before. Brady Hoke would walk from San Diego to Ann Arbor if he had to to turn things around. Doug Nussmeier would be a huge upgrade from Al Borges.

But on the other hand, Harbaugh does, in fact, bring with him a track record of program turnarounds, and while most don’t expect a championship overnight, we can finally start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Promise abounds with a roster full of talent just waiting to be developed.

On Thursday, senior guard Kyle Kalis shed light on that notion:

“We’re definitely grasping more of how to play the offensive line, technique, footwork, stuff that we never would really practice or have a knowledge of before,” Kalis said. “Coach Harbaugh is awesome, and the way coach (Drevno) coaches us, it’s just working. We’ve had days where we’re rolling guys 10 yards off the ball, and that never happened before. It’s not that we couldn’t do it, it’s just we didn’t know how to do it.”

But how soon will it pay off? It all starts on Thursday in Utah.

Week 1 at Utah The Strangest Thing

The strangest thing that came to me was last night in my sleep
I dreamt you never left
I looked up to thank the moon
And saw a set of lights
A set of red tail lights

I said to myself
I thought that I would never change
but when I woke that night
the strangest thing had come to me, I finally was awake
I slept for seven years

What happened back there?
Nothing has gone like we planned
All of our dreams, they have fell by the way
The true love I once had is dead

And forever our song we will sing

What a strange journey the last seven years have been. Nothing has gone like we planned. Rich Rodriguez was brought in to modernize Michigan football, but after three years we realized a complete rehaul was never needed. Perhaps a tuneup could have sufficed. Brady Hoke came in to bring us back, but four years later, we’re still looking up at Columbus.

Jim Harbaugh’s return to Ann Arbor still feels like a dream to many of us. He’s been dubbed the prodigal son, the savior of Michigan football, but as his first game approaches it’s starting to feel like the Michigan football of old never left.

What happened those last seven years? The love we all shared is dead. But we haven’t stopped singing The Victors.

While all signs point to Harbaugh turning things around, he’s only had a month to work with them so far, so there will surely be growing pains. Unfortunately, Utah is a competent team to face in an opener, especially on the road in an elevation Michigan players aren’t accustomed to. Sure, the Utes lost both coordinators this offseason, but they still have head coach Kyle Whittingham and they return quarterback Travis Wilson and a good running back in Devantae Booker. The defense will still be solid even with a 72-year-old coordinator whose last coordinator job was with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2001-02. Too many questions abound for Michigan on the road.

Utah 26 – Michigan 23

Week 2 vs Oregon State Backwards with Time

Folk always told me that my heart would grow
The older the man, yeah, the stronger the stone
Am I losing my mind?
Am I growing backwards with time?

Some say with age that a purpose becomes clear
I see the opposite happening here
Are we losing the fight?
Are we growing backwards with time?

The last time Harbaugh graced Michigan Stadium in a real game the Wolverines lost to Minnesota. But a week later he led Michigan to a 26-24 win over seventh-ranked Ohio State to capture a share of the Big Ten title. Now, 29 years later, he makes his return to the Big House an older man, leading the team he once captained. It’s almost unheard of in major college football for a former star return to his Alma mater as head coach. But when the team hits the field on Sept. 12 Harbaugh will receive a heroes welcome.

Oregon State is headed for a rebuilding year after losing the school’s and Pac-12’s all-time career passing leader, Sean Mannion. Storm Woods is a good running back that will benefit from offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin’s run-heavy system, but the OSU defense returns just two starters from last season. Harbaugh will pick up his first win in the Big House since Nov. 1, 1986.

Michigan 35 – Oregon State 17

Week 3 vs UNLV Will You Return?

I open my door and here’s what occurs
A pretty little gal with pretty little curls
Leans to the side, leans on my mind

I don’t want to live, but I sure don’t want to die
I’m stuttering again and tellin’ her goodbye
Oh m-m-my, goodb-b-bye

Will you come again? It’s hard to say
I surely hope so
Will you come again? It’s hard to say
I surely hope so

The only cupcake on Michigan’s schedule this season is UNLV. Sorry, Rebels, I’m not sending you a box of cupcakes. UNLV went 2-10 last season with wins over FCS Northern Colorado (13-12) and Fresno State by a field goal in overtime. That’s how close they were to a goose egg.

Flashy local high school coach Tony Sanchez was brought in to resurrect the program, and although he doesn’t have pretty little curls, he has a lot of work to do to bring the Rebels up to a competitive level. Michigan will breeze through this game as Harbaugh will look to send a message to the rest of the Big Ten that he’s not here to mess around. Michigan will then beg UNLV to come again, as they provide a bit sexier of a cupcake matchup than the traditional September yawners against Eastern, Western, and Central Michigan.

Michigan 56 – UNLV 13

Week 4 vs BYU – Please Pardon Yourself

How do I know when it’s time to stop?
Runnin’ from the things I do, being things I’m not
Oh I have tried, but I just changed my mind
Every night that falls, every morning light

How do I know that you will never stop?
Knowin’ me, and trustin’ me, and loving’ me a lot
Oh I have tried, but I just changed my mind
Every night that falls, every morning light

When Lloyd Carr retired, Michigan tried to be something it’s not. They brought in an offensive coach with a flashy style to completely change the program. But when that didn’t pan out, they brought in Brady Hoke to transition back to who they used to be. And when that transition didn’t work, Harbaugh was hired to bring them fully back to the teams of Bo, Moeller, and Carr.

But while the Michigan of old is what fans long for, the one thing it could never seem to stop was a mobile quarterback, and that’s exactly what BYU will bring to town on Sept. 26.  Before Taysom Hill suffered a season-ending leg injury in the fourth game of 2014, he averaged 219 passing yards per game with a 66 percent completion rate and 107 rushing yards per game with 13 total touchdowns. He runs the similar zone read offense as what Rodriguez had success with in 2010 with Denard Robinson. But he’ll have to do it without three-year starting running back Jamal Williams, who will miss the season for personal reasons.

Four games into the season, and coming off of big wins against Oregon State and UNLV, Harbaugh will have the Wolverines gaining confidence each week. The defense isn’t what we’re worried about, and with experience coaching mobile quarterbacks, Harbaugh will find a way to slow down Hill, leading to a close Michigan win.

Michigan 23 – BYU 20

Week 5 at Maryland The Perfect Space

Okay part two now clear the house
The party’s over take the shouting and the people,
get out!

I have some business and a promise that I have to hold to
I do not care what you assume or what the people told you
Will you understand, when I’m too old of a man?
Will you forget when we’ve paid our debts,
who did we borrow from? Who did we borrow from?

I wanna have pride like my mother has,
And not like the kind in the bible that turns you bad
And I wanna have friends that I can trust
that love me for the man I’ve become and not the man that I was.

Part one of Michigan-Maryland was an embarrassment to the Maize and Blue, making a winning record nearly impossible last season and giving the Big Ten newcomers the first bragging rights. Part two should be less embarrassing as Maryland returns the lowest production from last season in the entire conference. Only 29 percent of last season’s total offense, 36 percent of last season’s touchdowns, and 44 percent of last season’s total defense.  That certainly doesn’t guarantee a victory for Michigan, but in the conference opener, Harbaugh’s squad will show the Terps they’re not the same team as last year.

Michigan 33 – Maryland 17

Week 6 vs Northwestern I Wish I Was

I wish I was a flame dancing in a candle
Lighting up your living room high on the mantle
I could bring some romance without any scandal
And then when you were done you’d just put me out

I wish I was a tune you sang in your kitchen
Putting your groceries away and washing your dishes
I could roll around your tongue and ease the tension
And then when you were done you’d just quiet down

The last three meetings between Michigan and Northwestern have been nothing but torture for Northwestern coaches, players, and fans alike. In 2012, Roy Roundtree made a circus catch on a Devin Gardner hail Mary to set up a game-tying field goal in the closing seconds. Michigan won in overtime. In 2013, Michigan strung together the most improbable of final-second field goals, featuring a Drew Dileo slide-into-place hold. Michigan again won in overtime. Last season, Michigan won an ugly 10-9 affair that no one wants to relive. Michigan holds a 56-15-2 all-time record against the Wildcats, including wins in four of the last five during the last seven years. In other words, Northwestern wishes they were Michigan.

This season, Northwestern figures to be a middle of the pack Big Ten squad, breaking in a new quarterback — redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson — and hoping for a winning record. Michigan will be coming off of a convincing road win to open Big Ten play and continue that momentum with another convincing win, this time not taking it right down to the wire.

Michigan 31 – Northwestern 15

Week 7 vs Michigan State Murder in the City

I wonder which brother is better
Which one our parents loved the most
I sure did get in lots of trouble
They seemed to let the other go
A tear fell from my father’s eye
I wondered what my dad would say
He said, “I love you and I’m proud of you both,
In so many different ways”

If I get murdered in the city
Go read the letter in my desk
Don’t bother with all my belongings
Pay attention to the list
Make sure my sister knows I love her
Make sure my mother knows the same
Always remember there was nothing worth sharing
Like the love that let us share our name

Michigan State has benefited more than anyone from Michigan’s downturn the past seven years, and if you ask those in East Lansing, they’ve replaced Michigan as the state’s top program. They’ve mastered the art of using manufactured controversies as motivation, ever since the Little Brother comment during Lloyd Carr’s final season, and have won six of the past seven meetings since then.

Whichever way they want to spin it, they have a long way to go before they catch up to Michigan in the family pecking order, but the upper hand may continue for another season. Connor Cook figures to be one of the top two quarterbacks in the conference, and possibly the first one taken in next year’s NLF draft, and while the Spartans have to replace running back Jeremy Langford and their top two receivers, they do return the third-most defensive production in the Big Ten. That spells trouble for Michigan’s still improving offense. Expect a defensive battle in this one with Michigan State pulling out a close one.

Michigan State 20 – Michigan 16

Week 8 at Minnesota – The Greatest Sum

This and who I used to be
don’t matter much at all to me
The pit you dug to plant your feet’s
a far cry from my destiny
Not even the clouds
Not even the past
Not even the hands of God
could hold me back from you

Dark and lonely is the ride
the devil always by my side
Though no match for what lies between
a thought of you, your trust for me
Not even the sun
a bullet from a gun
No nothing that this world could bring
Or anything someone could do
Could hold me back from you

What was lost in the Shane Morris concussion aftermath of the game that sealed Brady Hoke’s fate last seasonwas the loss of Michigan’s most beloved rivalry trophy to the Gophers. The Little Brown Jug has resided in Ann Arbor 76 of the 101 years it has been in use, including 30 of the last 33 years. Michigan even managed to hold onto it during Rich Rodriguez’s 3-9 season in 2008 and the first three years of the Hoke regime. But a 30-14 loss last season allowed allowed Minnesota to regain control.

Minnesota was one of the Big Ten’s surprise teams last season, going 8-5 overall and 5-3 in the conference, and aims to prove this year that it wasn’t just a fluke. With 54 percent of its total offense and offensive touchdowns back and 62 percent of its defensive production, the Gophers still figure to be a formidable foe. And Michigan has to travel to Minneapolis to get its beloved jug back. Coming off a loss to Michigan State, Michigan won’t let anything stop it from taking it back.

Michigan 30 – Minnesota 21

Week 9 vs Rutgers Talk on Indolence

Well I’ve been locking’ myself up in my house for sometime now
Readin’ and writin’ and readin’ and thinkin’
and searching for reasons and missing the seasons
The Autumn, the summer, the spring, the snow
the record will stop and the record will go
Latches latched, the windows down, 
the dog coming in and the dog going out
Up with caffeine and down with a shot
Constantly worried about what I’ve got
Distracting my work but I can’t make it stop
and my confidence on and my confidence off
And I sink to the bottom and I rise to the top
and I think to myself that I do this a lot
World outside just goes it goes it goes it goes it goes it goes…
and witnesses it all from the blinds of my window
THREE, FOUR

I’m a little nervous ’bout what you’ll think
When you see me in my swimming trunks
And last night in New York I got raging drunk
Remember one time I got raging drunk with you

Last season was full of disappointment, but the loss at Rutgers may have been the one that drove us to drinking. A week after the Minnesota loss and ensuing concussion debacle, Michigan visited Rutgers for the first time in school history looking for a win to at least somewhat ease the pain. Instead, Michigan’s defense made quarterback Gary Nova look like Tom Brady and the Wolverines suffered a third straight defeat, dropping to 0-2 in Big Ten play for the first time since 1967.

When Rutgers comes to Ann Arbor on Nov. 7 for the first time ever, Michigan will need a win to keep its claim of not having a losing record against any Big Ten foe. Nova is gone, but Rutgers returns its entire running game and the Big Ten’s leading returning receiver. The defense has some experience up front but has to replace three starters in the secondary. Rutgers is looking at a potential step back from last year’s surprising 8-5 finish. If Michigan loses to Rutgers again, we’ll be getting raging drunk with you. But it won’t happen.

Michigan 38 – Rutgers 17

Week 10 at Indiana Love Like the Movies

Now in the movies they make it look so perfect
and in the background they’re always playing the right song
And at the ending there’s always a resolution
But real life is more than two hours long

So you want to be in love like the movies
But in the movies they’re not in love at all
And with a twinkle in their eyes
They’re just saying their lines
So we can’t be in love like the movies

Indiana wants football like the movies where Hoosiers can win state titles or walk-on Rudys get carried off the field to a crowd chanting their name. If football were like the movies, perhaps Indiana have more than one winning season in the last 20 years or more than one win over Michigan since 1968. But alas, it’s not and Indiana is destined for another Big Ten cellar-dwelling season.

Quarterback Nate Sudfeld is the one bright spot, returning from an injury. But running back Tevin Coleman is gone along with his 2,062 yards and 15 touchdowns. The leading returning rusher is backup quarterback Zander Diamont, who filled in for Sudfeld when he went down. Most of the receiving corps is also gone, leaving Sudfeld with a bevy of unproven receivers to throw to. The Indiana defense returns the second lowest production in the Big Ten (53 percent) from a unit that couldn’t stop anybody last year.

Sorry Indiana, this isn’t a movie. Behind UVLV, this is the closest thing to a sure bet for Michigan.

Michigan 52 – Indiana 13

Week 11 at Penn State – I Never Knew You

Well I guess it’s kind of funny how
I loved you so way back when
You say I wouldn’t know you now
Well I didn’t even know you then

We change a lot
And no one here can stop
That train before
It gets to where it’s going 
At all

Well I guess it’s kind of funny how
I loved you so way back when
You say I wouldn’t know you now
Well I didn’t even know you then

I heard about the company you’re keeping
And for someone who didn’t have much interest
In keeping us apart

For four decades Michigan and Penn State were known commodities. Stable, historic, winning programs. But now they’re hard to recognize. Michigan is on its third coach since 2008 and Penn State is on its second since 2012. Until 2008, Michigan dominated the series, winning nine in a row from 1997 to 2007. But Penn State captured four in a row before Michigan won 18-13 last fall.

This year’s meeting is in State College where Michigan has lost the last three trips. Penn State brings back the second-most offensive production (81 percent) and touchdowns (64 percent) in the Big Ten, most notably quarterback Christian Hackenberg who has been plagued by poor offensive line play the past two seasons. If that improves, Penn State will have a much improved offense. The defense should be among the Big Ten’s best, despite losing the Big Ten’s leading tackler, Mike Hull.

By this time in the season, Michigan should be much tougher than it was when the season started, but a road game in November the week before Ohio State spells loss for the Wolverines.

Penn State 26 – Michigan 23

Week 12 vs Ohio State Vanity

I’ve got something to say
But it’s all vanity, it’s all vanity
I found a tune I could play
But it’s all vanity, it’s all vanity

Call off the guards
Call off the search
Their heads are chopped off
They’re running in circles
They’re running in circles

While Michigan State has been the biggest beneficiary of Michigan’s downturn the past seven years, Ohio State is a close second. A national championship last season and wins in nine of the last 10 meetings have left the Buckeyes full of conceit. Seriously, is there a more vain fan base out there? They still worship the coach that put them on probation and the saddest part of all is that, despite a one-year falloff, it worked to their benefit. They got an even better coach.

Unfortunately, not much is going to change this season as they enter as the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation and favorite to win the Big Ten. They return the most offensive production (88 percent) and touchdowns (83 percent) and defensive production (74 percent) in the conference. The only good news is that they have to come to Ann Arbor, but they’ve won four of the last five in the Big House.

J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones are as good as any quarterbacks in the conference and Braxton Miller transitions his talent to receiver. Running back Ezekiel Elliott is a Heisman Trophy favorite and the defense is full of talent and playmakers. Unless Michigan’s offense is light years better than it’s expected to be, Michigan doesn’t have much of a shot in this one. But that’s why they play the games.

Ohio State 38 – Michigan 24

M&GB season preview roundtable 2015

Friday, August 28th, 2015


Harbaugh Michigan(Getty Images)

The last Friday before the first game week is traditionally when we put forth our season previews in roundtable form. That day has come and it’s time to put our predictions in ink. We won’t fully revisit last season’s predictions because, well, why would anyone want to? But our record predictions ranged from 8-4 to 10-2 and we all know how that went. Here’s to hoping this year is a bit more accurate.

What are you most excited about this season?

Justin: Of course the main source of excitement entering this season is Jim Harbaugh. He has nearly made Michigan fans forget about a 5-7 season and turned what would have been a long, painful offseason into the most exciting in recent memory. But what I’m most excited about this season is seeing a well-coached team play up to its full potential.

One of the areas Brady Hoke succeeded was recruiting, and although he missed on several big targets during his four years, he left the team well stocked in terms of talent. He just had trouble developing that talent to its potential. That’s an area Harbaugh has always excelled at, from San Diego to Stanford to San Francisco. I don’t expect a Big Ten title this year, but I do expect to see a well-prepared team that gets better as the season goes along, which will be a nice change of pace from the last seven years.

Derick: It looks like it’s a full go for the former five-star after an injury-riddled freshman campaign, and his move to safety, along with possible snaps on offense and returning kicks, should give us our first full look at what he can do. If he plays to his ceiling, Peppers could be the best player on both sides of the ball for Michigan this season.

Sam: I’m sure everyone can summarize their excitement in one word: Harbaugh. It’s still yet to hit a lot of Michigan fans, including this one, that one of the premier football coaches at any level of the game is now in Ann Arbor, and it will be a site to behold when Harbaugh joins the team running onto the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium. After four years of relative incompetency on the sidelines, the Wolverines will be well-coached, well-prepared, and hungry.

Josh: Competent coaching. I liked Brady Hoke but as time went on it became very clear that he and his staff were way in over their heads and just not cut out for big time college football. Harbaugh and his staff all have high level college and/or NFL experience and a proven track record. If Harbaugh’s past stops are any indication, and I think they are, we won’t be complaining about lack of development or lackluster play-calling. This staff will identify, develop and place their players in the best position available to succeed.

What worries you the most entering this season?

Justin: The non-conference schedule worries me most. Not Oregon State or UNLV, but the opener at Utah and then the fourth game against BYU. Both are very good opponents that could beat Michigan, and those two games will go a long way toward the success of this season. I expect Michigan to gain strength as the season progresses, but no one really knows what to expect next Thursday. So many questions abound offensively, most notably at quarterback. If Michigan can survive Utah and BYU, a very good season awaits. But lose both of those and they’ll have to pull off an upset to get to seven or eight wins.

Derick: The passing game. With the questions at quarterback and the glaring lack of a dominant receiver, Michigan’s passing game could be in for another ugly year. Either Jake Ruddock or Shane Morris will take the reins, and though they can’t be worse than Devin Gardner was last season, there are only a few reliable targets to throw to. Jake Butt will have to finally put together a complete season, and Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson will have to make plays downfield.

Sam: There are questions all over the offensive side of the ball, which is certainly not a good sign after Michigan struggled to move the ball in recent seasons, but I think Jake Rudock and the offensive line will be solid enough considering the perceived strength of the defense. What worries me most, however, is the schedule. The season opener will be a battle in a hostile stadium in Salt Lake City, BYU always seems to have a great offense, Michigan State and Ohio State figure to be strong yet again, and Minnesota and Penn State are on the rise and should prove to be formidable road tests.

Josh: I’m still very worried about the offense in general. While we can all assume Rudock is the QB the fact remains that there are no proven game changing play-makers on this roster. What we’ve seen from De’veon Smith and Derrick Green doesn’t exactly instill confidence, maybe Ty Isaac steps up but reports out of camp don’t seem promising. If Drake Johnson was 100 percent I’d feel much better, as he was the only running back that has shown enough to think he could be the No. 1 guy.

At receiver we have two guys with experience, and neither have really lit it up. Maybe Drake Harris or Brian Cole or Grant Perry step up, but they are all unknowns at this point and that is the problem. There is potential on this offense but no one has shown they are the man yet. Until a couple of them prove that this offense could be very pedestrian and unlikely to have the firepower to keep up with higher scoring teams.
Who will be the breakout player on offense this season?

Justin: While I think Jake Butt will have a huge season in Harbaugh’s offense, I see him as an already proven commodity and not worthy of breakout player consideration. That said, Drake Harris has to be the obvious choice here as the preseason hype continues to build. Michigan has lacked a game-changer at receiver the past couple of seasons, and Amara Darbor and Jehu Chesson are running out of time to step up. Harris missed his senior season at Grand Rapids Christian and then a hamstring injury kept him out of his freshman season a year ago. Provided he can stay healthy, he has the size — 6-foot-4, 174 pounds — and talent — he caught 91 passes for 2,015 yards as a junior — to be a star in the Maize and Blue.

Derick: I look for Jake Butt to break out as Michigan’s most reliable target over the middle this season. He should finally have a more accurate quarterback to get him the ball this season, and he’s playing for Jim Harbaugh, who pumps out NFL-caliber tight ends like an assembly line. Butt has had his moments over the past two seasons, but he’s never even put up 250 yards in a year. I think that’ll change in 2015.

Sam: After nearly two full years off the field, Drake Harris seems to finally be healthy and right in the mix at the wide receiver spot. Harris, a redshirt freshman from Grand Rapids, has all the physical tools and a full set of skills to be an excellent downfield threat or move-the-chains type of pass catcher. If his hamstring holds up and his blazing speed is still there, I think he could potentially emerge as the number one threat at a position of need for Harbaugh’s offense.

Josh: Jake Butt. We all know Harbaugh loves the tight end and now that Jake Butt is healthy he should be in for a monster year. Unlike Devin Funchess, Butt is a decent blocker so he can be lined up on the line, and has the athleticism to line up on the outside, in the slot or maybe in the backfield. Harbaugh and Co. are going to have a field day with Butt. Couple that with Rudock’s reputation, fair or not, for taking the safe, easy throw and Butt is primed for a huge season. I would be shocked if he didn’t lead the team in receptions and receiving touchdowns.

Who will be the breakout player on defense this season?

Justin: Last year’s pick, Jourdan Lewis, enjoyed a successful season as the team’s best defensive back and is poised for an even better season this fall. But how can I pick anyone other than Jabrill Peppers? We had to wait a full year for this, since he only made it a couple of games last fall. But now, with a full year in the program and a coaching staff that will allow him to thrive — potentially in all three phases of the game — his time has come.

Derick: Jourdan Lewis is going to put on a show this season. He burst onto the scene as Michigan’s top cornerback in 2014, and now he’s primed to take the next step as a shutdown defensive back. It’s a bit of a thin secondary behind Lewis heading into the season, so he’ll need to be everything Blake Countess wasn’t during his encore.

Sam: Michigan’s defense looks like it could be excellent on paper, and I think the addition of D.J. Durkin as the new coordinator will boost an already great unit that boasts a terrific linebacker corps, a potentially dynamic safety in Jabrill Peppers, a star-in-waiting in Jourdan Lewis, and a number of stout defensive tackles. Defensive end, however, remains a question mark, making my breakout defensive player pick, Taco Charlton, all the more important. Like Harris, Charlton has the body and raw potential to be excellent, but he needs to get his technique down to be a consistent threat to pressure the quarterback.

Josh: I wish I could pick someone other than Jabrill Peppers but I can’t. He’s just a freak athlete and by all accounts appears to be capable of not only playing multiple positions but playing them well. Depending on where he plays he’s either gonna be a big hit playmaker or a shut down corner. Either way, this should be the guy that takes this defense from good to great.

Michigan will win the Big Ten if…

Justin: Braxton Miller gets hurt. Wait, then J.T. Barrett. And maybe Cardale Jones too? Oh, I give up. Michigan won’t win the Big Ten this season, but by season’s end will look much more like a conference title contender heading into the offseason. Disclaimer: I would never wish a player to get hurt, and I certainly hope it doesn’t happen again.

Derick: the running game is dominant, the passing game is adequate, the defense doesn’t drop off dramatically and Ohio State secedes from the conference to join the SEC. Michigan was a hot mess when Jim Harbaugh got to town, and one year isn’t going to be enough to turn that around. A Big Ten title will be the goal in Year 3 of this regime. Until then, look for obvious improvement across the board and set realistic expectations.

Sam: dogs fly? In reality, I don’t really think Michigan has a legitimate shot at a Big Ten title this season with two top-10 teams in their division and four very challenging conference games. The only way they have a chance is if they win all but one Big Ten game (requiring wins in three of Michigan State, Ohio State, @Minnesota, and @Penn State) and MSU or OSU unexpectedly slips up elsewhere.

Josh: East Lansing and Columbus sink into the center of the Earth. Seriously. Unless both Michigan State and Ohio State don’t show up (in the literal sense, as in they stay at home) to Ann Arbor and Michigan plays perfectly all season I don’t see how this is even something to ponder.

What is your prediction for the season? Record, who will Michigan lose to, and what bowl game will Michigan play in?

Justin: I think we’re looking at a 9-4 team when all is said and done. Losses to Utah, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State. All four losses will be competitive and it will be clear that Michigan isn’t the pushover it has been in recent years. An Outback Bowl win over an SEC squad will heighten expectations heading into 2016.

Derick: I’ll say Michigan goes 9-4, though that might be a bit generous. Utah will be a good test right out of the gate, and I think Michigan will go through some growing pains and drop the opener. The Michigan State and Ohio State games are both at home, but I don’t give Michigan much of a chance in either of those contests. Michigan State plays with the physicality Michigan aspires to attain and Ohio State is one of the deepest teams in the country at all positions, not just quarterback. I also think the Wolverines drop the Nov. 21 game in Happy Valley, with the home game against Ohio State looming. Penn State is an elite defensive team and Michigan’s offense is a complete unknown, so I’ll give the edge to the Nittany Lions.

A late September home game against BYU will be a tough test for Michigan heading into the Big Ten season, and the Golden Gophers won’t be a pushover in Minnesota, coming off an eight-win season. But if Michigan can pull out both of those games and finish the regular season with eight wins, I think they’ll get an invite to the Outback Bowl and beat up on an overrated SEC team. I like Harbaugh’s chances after a month of preparation and a full season of coaching up his players.

Sam: While I don’t think Michigan will win the Big Ten, I do think it will be a very solid season overall, with a 9-3 regular season finish, losses to Michigan State, at Penn State, and Ohio State, and a bowl win in the Gator Bowl (TaxSlayer Bowl) for a 10-3 final record.

Josh: There are two trains of thought when it comes to Michigan’s recent lack of success. One is that these kids weren’t as good as their recruiting rankings suggest and they are just a bunch of busts. The other is that they’ve been victims of a losing culture and very poor coaching. I fall on the inept coaching/losing culture side and while I know Harbaugh will bring us back to the Michigan of old it’s going to take time, likely a few years. Rome wasn’t built in a day, or so I hear.

Right now I think this is a borderline seven or eight win team, the defense should be very good but the offense has a lot to prove and while there may be ‘potential’ I’ll believe it when I see it. The fact that neither of two former five-star running backs (or anyone else for that matter) have separated themselves from the pack and the one consistent commodity (Drake Johnson) is recovering from his second torn ACL concerns me. I think it’ll be better than last year (Rudock isn’t going be a turnover machine) but unless someone like Drake Harris or Ty Isaac step up and just dominate it’s not going to be explosive by any stretch.
Losses will come to Utah, MSU and OSU with another between the “toss-up games” BYU, Minnesota and Penn State. The fact that Minnesota and Penn State are on the road really worries me and but I think we’re still looking at a 8-4 season with a decent pre-New Year’s bowl because it’s Michigan and Harbaugh. However, I wouldn’t be completely surprised if this team got to nine or 10 wins (not including the bowl game).

Predicting Michigan 2015: The special teams

Thursday, August 27th, 2015


PredictingMichigan-SpecialTeams

Blake O'Neill(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

Previously: Quarterbacksrunning backswide receiverstight endsoffensive linedefensive linelinebackers, secondary

Michigan will welcome back most of its offensive and defensive starters in 2015, but the special teams stars will see a huge turnover.
Matt Wile, who went 15-of-21 in field goal attempts last season, and Will Hagerup, who averaged 42.9 yards per punt, both graduated and left two starting kicking spots open. Returner Dennis Norfleet is also absent from the roster after being dismissed by Jim Harbaugh.

Here’s a look at the guys ready to step up as special teams leaders.

Kicker

With Wile’s departure, and little left behind him on the current roster, Michigan needed to fill the empty kicker position from the outside. Enter, Andrew David. The Ohio native is one of the top kicking recruits in the 2015 class and enters his freshman season after handling both field goals and kickoffs in high school.

David’s calling card is his elite leg strength, which will be key in his winning the kickoff job as a true freshman. His field goal accuracy left something to be desired in high school, but if he can sort that out with coach John Baxter, he’s got the leg power — he made a 58-yard field goal at Massillon (Ohio) High School last season — to be one of the top kickers in the Big Ten.

If David struggles, walk-ons Kenny Allen, Ryan Tice, and Kyle Seychel will duke it out for the starting job. Only Allen, who booted a 51-yard punt against Central Michigan in 2013, has seen the field for the Wolverines.

Punter

The open punting position was up for grabs this offseason until Michigan landed Weber State graduate transfer Blake O’Neill. The Melbourne, Australia native averaged 44.1 yards per punt last season in the FCS and should run away with the starting job this season.

To put O’Neill’s final season at Weber State in perspective, only 14 FBS teams averaged more than 44.1 yards per punt last season, and only Ohio State and Minnesota ranked higher in the Big Ten. If he picks up where he left off, Michigan will have a one-year upgrade at punter.

Career Stats – O’Neill
Year Punts Yards Average Long TB FC In-20 Blk
2014 62 2,737 44.1 71 8 17 25 1
Totals 62 2,737 44.1 71 8 17 25 1
*At Weber State

Returner

The battle for the starting return job is one of the most intriguing heading into the mountains of Utah. Michigan averaged a terrible 19.9 yards per kick return and 6.8 yards per punt return last season, neither of which cracked the top 80 in the country.

The player with the most upside is clearly Jabrill Peppers, who was an elite returner in high school. Peppers is perhaps the best all-around athlete on the team and Harbaugh even hinted during the offseason that he could be a three-way player. He’s got elite speed, quickness and vision and would be a home run threat every time he catches the ball.

If Peppers only gets one of the jobs, it’ll likely be as punt returner, where he was excellent in high school and would have more open space to make a big play.

Another option is cornerback Jourdan Lewis, the fastest defender on the team and a standout in the secondary last season. Lewis returned just one kick for six yards last season, but has the athleticism to be a solid returner if Michigan goes in that direction. His ceiling is much lower than Peppers’ however.

Predicting Michigan 2015: The secondary

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015


PredictingMichigan-Secondary

Jabrill Peppers(Leon Halip, Getty Images)

Previously: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers

The unit with the most room to improve on Michigan’s defense under Jim Harbaugh is the secondary, which has been a weakness over the past few seasons. With the departure of both preseason starting cornerbacks from last season, Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor, there’s room for new guys to step in and make some noise under the new regime.

Luckily, there’s plenty of depth at both cornerback and safety for the Wolverines. A few younger players stepped in and played heightened roles during the 2014 season and figure to hold the reins heading into Week 1 against Utah.

Here’s a look at how the secondary will line up.

Probable starters

Jourdan-Lewis-vs-Miami-OH

Jourdan Lewis looks to build on a breakout season in 2014 (MGoBlue.com)

While the cornerback group might not have the depth of the safeties on paper, two rock solid starters should give Michigan a big lift against the pass. Jourdan Lewis was clearly the defense’s most improved player last season and burst onto the scene as the most consistent cornerback on the roster. Lewis has elite speed to go along with good hands and instincts, and by the end of the season he was matching up with opposing No. 1 wide receivers.

Lewis started seven games and picked up 39 tackles and two picks. He was Michigan’s best defense against downfield passes and broke up six passes. If he can build on his fabulous sophomore season, he’ll be the leader in the Michigan secondary.

Across from Lewis will be Stanford transfer Wayne Lyons, who played parts of four seasons for the Cardinal. Lyons injured his foot after two games as a freshman, qualifying for a medical redshirt and allowing him to transfer to Michigan as a graduate student.

Lyons enjoyed a decorated career at Stanford, playing 41 games at cornerback and appearing on the Lott IMPACT Trophy watch list prior to the 2014 season. He picked up 30 tackles as a senior and broke up three passes. He recorded 4.5 tackles for loss, forced two fumbles, and picked off two passes as a junior in 2013.

Lyons was recruited by Harbaugh in 2011 when he committed to Stanford and will rejoin his coach in Ann Arbor for his final college season. Lyons will likely win a starting job after Countess decided to transfer for his final season.

Harbaugh and his staff have a handful of options at secondary, though one of the starters will certainly be the dynamic Jabrill Peppers. Peppers, the best pure athlete on the team, was moved to safety this offseason after struggling to stay healthy as a true freshman. He played in only three games and recorded eight tackles, but the flashes of his ability have Michigan fans eager for his true coming out party.

Peppers joined Michigan as a five-star recruit who dominated his senior season at Paramus Catholic High School under Coach Chris Partridge. Peppers was a star on offense and defense in high school, but was recruited as a defensive back. In two years at Paramus Catholic, Peppers picked up 134 tackles, seven picks, and two sacks.

If Peppers stays healthy, he’ll likely be the best player on the Michigan defense.

At free safety, Jarrod Wilson returns from a fine junior season in which he recorded 50 tackles and two pass break-ups. At 6-foot-2, Wilson has size to go with his quickness and his ball skills have gotten better throughout his career. Wilson was huge for Michigan last season with the struggles at corner. If the Wolverines improve in front of Wilson this season, he’ll have more reign to force turnovers and break up passes.

Projected Stats – Lewis
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
40 2.0 4
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
25 42 14 56 0.0 1.5 0 8 2
Projected Stats – Lyons
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
45 2.0 3
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
43 81 46 127 0.0 4.5 3 7 3
Projected Stats – Peppers
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
50 3.0 4
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
3 6 2 8 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
Projected Stats – Wilson
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
40 1.0 2
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
36 56 52 108 0.0 3.0 1 4 2

Returning contributors

Michigan returns only one other cornerback who played a major role during 2014, Channing Stribling. Stribling played 10 games as a backup corner last season, making seven tackles. He has been a decent rotational guy in two college seasons, but will be asked to play a larger role as an upperclassman. Stribling is tall for a cornerback and is fast enough to stick with Big Ten receivers. His playmaking ability isn’t up to par with the likes of Lewis or Lyons, but he can hold his own.

Safety is a different story for Michigan in terms of depth. Delano Hill started five games for Michigan last season and made 21 tackles. He’s only six feet tall, but Hill is a great tackler and stands out as a security blanket downfield. Hill’s value lies in his versatility. He was used to cover both receivers and tight ends in 2014 and has a good nose for the ball. He’ll be on the field for a ton of snaps this season.

Right there with Hill is redshirt junior Jeremy Clark, who played in 11 games and made 18 tackles in 2014. Clark is huge for a safety – 6-foot-4 – and shares strengths with Hill. He’s a great tackler, a hard hitter and has good speed for his size. Clark is strong in the run-stopping game as a safety and can match up with any position player on the offense.

Dymonte Thomas also played a big role in 2014, playing in 10 games and making 27 tackles. He’s got the highest ceiling in this group of defensive backs after coming to Michigan as a five-star recruit. Thomas is fast and athletic, which allows him to stay with receivers downfield and play physical with ball carriers in front of him.

Hill, Clark, and Thomas give Michigan a ton of depth at safety and lift much of the weight off the cornerbacks’ shoulders. A.J. Pearson is another name to watch in the rotation, though he didn’t get much time last season. He could fill in anywhere in the secondary.

Projected Stats – Stribling
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
25 0.0 1
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
23 20 3 23 0.0 0.5 1 0 0
Projected Stats – Hill
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
22 0.0 1
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
20 14 7 21 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
Projected Stats – Clark
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
20 1.5 0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
19 10 8 18 0.0 0.0 0 1 0
Projected Stats – Thomas
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
25 1.0 1
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
23 24 10 34 0.0 0.0 1 0 0

New faces

Michigan brought in two new cornerbacks this spring, led by Alabama native Keith Washington. Washington is defined by his elite speed in the secondary and will use it to make plays on the ball. If Washington can stick with receivers at the college level, he’ll be a dangerous corner when the ball is thrown to his side of the field.

Tyree Kinnel comes out of high school with just as much upside as Washington, though he doesn’t possess his elite speed. Kinnel is a sound tackler and can defend both the run and the pass.

Both true freshmen will get a chance to earn playing time in 2015, as Michigan’s cornerback group isn’t as deep as others. They’ll have to prove they can effectively cover Big Ten-caliber receivers to get a chance.

Meet the rest

Terry Richardson – senior, 5’9″, 174 from Detroit, Mich. (Cass Tech), 14 career games played
Travis Wooley – senior, 6’0″, 195 from Sault Sainte Marie, Mich. (Sault Area), no career stats
Matt Mitchell – sophomore, 5’10”, 179 from Dexter, Mich. (Dexter), no career stats
Brandon Watson – sophomore, 5’11”, 189 from Wilmington, Del (Eastern Christian Academy), no career stats
Reon Dawson – junior, 6’2″, 175 from from Trotwood, Ohio (Trotwood-Madison), no career stats
Francois Montbrun – junior, 5’10”, 183 from Ishpeming, Mich. (Westwood), no career stats
Anthony Dalimonte – junior, 5’9″, 176 from Bloomfield Hills, Mich. (Brother Rice), no career stats
Shaun Austin – senior, 6’1″, 202 from Plymouth, Mich. (Plymouth), no career stats

Predicting Michigan 2015: The linebackers

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015


PredictingMichigan-Linebackers

Joe Bolden(Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

Michigan’s linebacker corps was rock solid last season, but with its fearless leader Jake Ryan graduating to the NFL, it’ll be critical for a largely unproven group to fill the void.

As a unit, the Michigan linebackers were great in the run-stopping game last season, flocking to the ball, and for the most part, keeping running backs from getting to the outside. For the defense to take a step forward in 2015, the three starters will have to lock down the middle of the field and support the defensive line in the run game.

Here’s how the linebackers stack up.

Probable starters

More so than with other positions on the roster, there’s a clear separation in the chain of command within the linebacker core. The starters will be three seniors with a ton of experience over the past three seasons.

Joe Bolden figures to be the physical and vocal leader of the group after starting all 12 games in 2014. Bolden was a beast in the middle of the field, making 102 tackles, and at times, defending the pass. With the departure of Ryan, Bolden is the most likely candidate to wreak havoc in opposing backfields. He has five career sacks and 12 tackles for loss as a linebacker and continues to improve each season.

In the middle will be redshirt senior Desmond Morgan, whose 2014 season was lost to injury after the opener against Appalachian State. Morgan was Michigan’s best linebacker in 2013, with Ryan sidelined by injury, recording 79 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and three passes defended. Morgan is valuable in the middle of the field because he can dominate all aspects of the position, swallowing up ball carriers and dropping back into coverage. Morgan’s return will help soften the blow of losing Ryan, who was the undisputed leader last year.

The final starting spot will go to James Ross, who recorded 32 tackles in 12 games last season. Ross was quiet in 2014 after picking up 85 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore and beginning the season with huge expectations. He can drop into coverage with tight ends and make plays on the ball in the backfield, though he disappeared at times last season. He’ll need to be closer to the player he was in 2013 to be a threat from the outside.

Projected Stats – Bolden
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
80 5.0 3.0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
38 99 88 187 5.0 12.0 0 1 0
Projected Stats – Morgan
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
100 7.0 1.5
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
37 111 118 229 2.5 14.0 1 2 1
Projected Stats – Ross
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
50 5.0 1.0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
37 86 67 153 2.0 11.0 2 1 0

Returning contributors

This is where the linebacker core gets a bit thin for Michigan. Royce Jenkins-Stone has the best chance after the starters to make an impact at linebacker this season after playing in 11 games last year. His value comes from his speed and athleticism, as he can drop into coverage better than most linebackers and can get around blockers to make a play on the ball. Jenkins-Stone has just eight career tackles, but he’s a candidate to break out in 2015 if he earns more snaps.

Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray also saw some time on the field last year, playing in 11 games apiece. Gedeon made 17 tackles and picked up a sack against Miami (Ohio). His specialty is getting into the backfield, where he can be disruptive off the edge. McCray, however, is more of a form tackler and can make plays if he’s in position. He’s the slowest of this group of linebackers, but he won’t miss a tackle and he can shed would-be blockers.

Michigan will need at least one of these three players to step up and give the linebackers some depth heading into the season.

Career Stats – Jenkins-Stone
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
12 2 6 8 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Gedeon
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
25 21 15 36 2.0 2.5 0 0 0
Career Stats – McCray
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
11 2 0 2 0.0 1.0 0 0 0

New face

Michigan didn’t bring in any high-profile linebackers to fortify the position this offseason, but they did move defensive end Jack Dunaway, from Bloomfield, to linebacker as a freshman. Dunaway likely won’t play much of a role on the field in 2015, but he’s a good tackler and can make plays in the backfield. The coaching staff hopes his move to linebacker will add depth to the position, which looks so thin after the starters.

Meet the rest

Allen Gant – senior, 6’2″, 225 from Sylvania, Ohio (Southview), 12 games played, 5 total tackles
Jared Wangler – sophomore, 6’2″, 230 from Royal Oak, Mich. (De La Salle), no career stats
Chris Terech – freshman, 6’2″, 215 from Saline, Mich. (Saline), no career stats
Nick Benda – senior, 6’0″, 223 from Champion, Mich. (Westwood), no career stats
John Andrysiak – freshman, 6’1″, 215 from Flint, Mich. (Powers Catholic), no career stats
Michael Wroblewski – junior, 6’2″, 241 from Saint Clair Shores, Mich. (Detroit Jesuit), no career stats
Tommy Whitted – freshman, 6’1″, 225 from Winter Park, Fla. (Winter Park), no career stats
Dan Liesman – senior, 6’2″, 233 from Lansing, Mich. (Lansing Catholic), no career stats
James Offerdahl – freshman, 6’2″, 220 from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Cardinal Gibbons), no career stats
Noah Furbush – sophomore, 6’4″, 217 from Kenton, Ohio (Kenton)
Cheyenn Robertson – freshman, 6’3″, 220 from Union City, N.J. (St. Peter’s Prep), no career stats

Predicting Michigan 2015: The defensive line

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015


PredictingMichigan-DefensiveLine

Willie Henry(Jim Rogash, Getty Images)

For fans who watched Michigan football struggle through a miserable 5-7 season a year ago, including the team’s first shutout loss in decades and another pounding at the hands of Michigan State, encouraging signs were few and far between.

But the defensive line stood out as a strong unit in 2014, holding opponents to just 3.2 rushing yards per carry and picking up 29 sacks on the season. Michigan was the 11th toughest team to run against in the country and the second toughest in the Big Ten, behind Penn State (No. 1 in the nation).

Unfortunately, Jim Harbaugh will have to fill a huge hole on both ends of the defensive line as Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer have moved on to the NFL. Some of the depth players who contributed in the regular rotation last season will have to step up and take on a bigger role.

Probable starters

With openings on both ends of the line heading into camp, veterans Chris Wormley and Mario Ojemudia are likely to step into the starting roles. Wormley, a Toledo native, started six games as a redshirt sophomore and picked up 21 tackles, five tackles for loss and three sacks. He played his best football down the stretch, recording 13 of his tackles in the final four games of the season. Wormley is one of the most explosive Wolverines off the line and could turn into their best defensive lineman as a junior.

Ojemudia, who recorded 32 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 11 games last season, is just 6-foot-2 and around 250 pounds. He played a rotational role from 2012-13, but burst onto the scene as a key contributor last season. Like Wormley, Ojemudia has a good burst from around the edge, but he’s also a strong run stopper. With Clark and Beyer gone, fans will get their best look at the senior this season.

The middle of the defensive line will be a familiar sight as starters Ryan Glasgow and Willie Henry return for their redshirt junior seasons. Glasgow started 11 games at the nose tackle position last season, making 22 tackles, four for loss. Henry had 20 tackles, 5.5 for loss, three sacks and an interception while starting six games. This duo specializes in clogging the middle and stopping the run, though Henry does offer a slight threat to find the quarterback up the middle.

Michigan lost a candidate for a starting spot when Bryan Mone went down for the season. The defensive tackle played in all 12 games as a freshman, recording nine tackles. He was primed for a breakout season in the middle of the line in 2015, but will instead miss the year with a broken ankle.

Instead, Taco Charlton will have to step up as a top rotational player for the Wolverines after picking up 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks as a sophomore. Charlton is one of the few Michigan defensive linemen who can really wreak havoc in the backfield, so he’ll likely see a ton of snaps in a rotation with Wormley and Ojemudia.

Projected Stats – Wormley
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
30 8.0 6.0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
25 19 21 40 5.5 9.5 0 1 0
Projected Stats – Ojemudia
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
40 8.0 5.0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
34 37 26 63 6.0 11.5 1 2 1
Projected Stats – Glasgow
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
25 3.0 0.0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
23 13 11 24 0.0 4.0 1 1 0
Projected Stats – Henry
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
25 5.0 3.0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
21 27 25 52 3.5 8.5 0 0 1
Projected Stats – Charlton
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
30 6.0 5.0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
22 15 6 21 3.5 6.0 0 0 0

Returning contributors

Michigan developed solid depth in the middle of the line last season with Matt Godin and Maurice Hurst each playing in over half of the team’s games. Hurst, a four-star recruit in 2012, picked up three tackles in his redshirt freshman season, playing sparingly at defensive tackle. He’s quick for a lineman and was brought to Ann Arbor to disrupt the quarterback, which will keep him in the rotation.

Godin is much bigger, 6-foot-6 and 290 pounds, and plays more of a run-stopping game. Unlike Hurst, he’ll likely be used as a plug in the middle of the line.

Tom Strobel is the only returning defensive end (other than those listed above) with any on-field experience for the Wolverines. He played in five games last season and recorded his only tackle against Minnesota. He’s 6-foot-6 and was recruited as a pass rusher, but he’ll be behind a few others who can do the same.

Lawrence Marshall did not see the field last season, but could be a factor as a sophomore in 2015. The former four-star has perhaps the highest ceiling on the line, and could emerge as an elite pass rusher when he earns regular reps.

Career Stats – Godin
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
11 4 5 9 1.0 1.5 0 0 1
Career Stats – Hurst
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
8 3 0 3 0.0 1.0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Strobel
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
7 2 1 3 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Marshall
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 0 0 0

New faces

The 2015 recruiting class brings a pair of defensive ends to the Michigan roster – Reuben Jones and Shelton Johnson.
Johnson was the more highly-sought recruit out of high school, where he was a regular in opposing backfields. He has the tools to be a solid lineman for the Wolverines, but he likely won’t play much of a role as a true freshman.

Jones figures to have a better chance to play early in his career because of his ability to both defend the run and disrupt the quarterback. The more experienced linemen will likely push Jones out of the rotation in 2015, but he has an outside chance to play a role.

Meet the rest

Cody Zeisler — sophomore, 6’3″, 255 from Ann Arbor, Mich. (Skyline), no career stats
Brady Pallante — sophomore, 6’1″, 276 from Naples, Fla. (Barron Collier), no career stats
Garrett Miller — junior, 6’4″, 270 from Adrian, Mich. (Sand Creek), no career stats

Predicting Michigan 2015: The offensive line

Thursday, August 13th, 2015


PredictingMichigan-OffensiveLine
Mason Cole(Melanie Maxwell, MLive)

Michigan’s passing game was severely flawed under head coach Brady Hoke, but perhaps the most concerning unit over the last few seasons was the offensive line.

Michigan, recently known for talented linemen like Jake Long and Taylor Lewan, bounced back from a disastrous 2013 season with a marginally better 2014. Michigan quarterbacks were sacked 27 times and the team rushed for an average of 4.6 yards per carry. The line wasn’t dominant, but with most of the core players returning, there’s certainly enough for new offensive line coach Tim Drevno to work with.

Here’s a look at Michigan’s offensive line unit heading into the 2015 season.

Probable starters

Kyle Kalis

Kyle Kalis looks to live up to his five-star hype this fall (247 Sports)

Michigan returns five offensive linemen who played a ton of snaps in 2014 and figure to make up most of the starting line to begin the upcoming season. At the head of the group, coming off a strong freshman season, is left tackle Mason Cole.

Cole became the first Michigan offensive lineman to start the season opener as a true freshman last August, doing so as Hoke’s left tackle. He started all twelve games and wasn’t overwhelmed in his first college season. The former Florida high school first-team all-state selection figures to be the rock of the offensive line and will hold down the left tackle spot, barring injury.

On the end opposite of Cole will likely be redshirt junior Erik Magnuson, who took a mini step back last season after starting seven games at guard in 2012. Magnuson is a solid run blocker, but the concern will be his ability to pass protect on the edge. At 6-foot-6 and nearly 300 pounds, Magnuson is strong enough to be a force for Michigan after an offseason working with Drevno and the new staff.

Kyle Kalis will likely nail down one of the two guard spots, probably on the right side, where he’s been featured most as a Wolverine. Kalis had a fantastic redshirt freshman season, but took a small step back in 2014. The former five-star recruit might be the most important lineman for the Wolverines as the coaching staff works toward his incredibly high ceiling.

Redshirt junior Ben Braden, who started all twelve games for Michigan, should take the other guard spot. Though he played in just two games through his first two years on campus, Braden won a starting job last fall and was solid throughout the season. He could definitely improve as a pass blocker heading into what figures to be his second full season, but Braden is strong in the creating for the run, which will be valuable in Jim Harbaugh’s offense.

Finally, Graham Glasgow will move to center and anchor this experienced offensive line, where he’s played on both sides throughout his career. Glasgow started the final 11 games of the season in 2014 after playing in all 13 games the previous year. Glasgow has been a staple on the line since midway through 2012, but a full-time switch to center will be one to keep an eye on. Glasgow played nine games at center in 2013, which was a disastrous season for Michigan’s pass protection. The 311-pound lineman is a strong inside blocker, but his adjustment to center will come with some bumps along the road.

Overall, Michigan’s starting offensive line should be strong and experienced, but its legacy will be written based on the ability to protect the quarterback. Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner weren’t the easiest quarterbacks to block for, but with a more conventional offensive scheme in place, Michigan fans will get a better look at what this line can really do.

Projected Starters
Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
Mason Cole Ben Braden Graham Glasgow Kyle Kalis Erik Magnuson
2014 Starts 12 12 11 7 5
Career Starts 12 12 24 16 13

Returning contributors

The offensive and defensive lines are the most important positions on the football field to build depth in. Elite offensive lines aren’t only identified by strong, durable starters, but also by a deep group of players who can step in a play meaningful snaps late in games.

Michigan doesn’t have many experienced players waiting in the wings behind the five starters mentioned above, but there’s a deep pool of talent to work with on the roster. One of the most interesting players to watch will be Patrick Kugler, a former five-star recruit who played only one game last season.

Kugler is only 6-foot-5, but he’s one of the more athletic linemen on the team and could fill in at any position on the line. That versatility will make Kugler a valuable backup option as any of the starters could need a blow during the game. Kugler could be an option to fill in at center if the Glasgow transition doesn’t go well.

Another versatile option behind Kugler is redshirt junior Blake Bars, who didn’t see the field in 2014. Bars was an all-state lineman as a senior at Montgomery Bell Academy in Tennessee and has the skillset to help out at an interior line position if needed.

Michigan could also get a boost from a trio of former four-star juniors who haven’t seen much of the field during their careers. David Dawson, who played in five games last year, is one of the few pass blocking specialist in the rotation and, as a result, has a good chance to make the regular rotation. Logan Tuley-Tillman and Chris Fox have only played in one game apiece, but could play a role, as they’re both huge and have raw talent.

The names on this list don’t jump off the page, but Harbaugh and Drevno certainly see a ton of potential in the backup offensive linemen. Barring a major injury on the starting line, these guys will spend another year adjusting to the college game by filling in and playing lesser roles when called upon.

New faces

The 2015 recruiting class brought three new faces to the offensive line. The most decorated of these recruits is Grant Newsome, a 6-foot-7 tackle out of New Jersey. Newsome is an explosive pass protector who could back up Magnuson at right tackle in a pinch. Though he’s one of the best linemen in the 2015 class, he’s a redshirt candidate behind Michigan’s experienced line.

The Wolverines also welcome three-stars Nolan Ulizio and Jon Runyan Jr. to the unit. Ulizio projects as a guard at the college level and Runyan could play anywhere on the interior line. Both guys are strong candidates to redshirt in 2015.

Meet the rest

Greg Froelich — junior, 6’2″, 270 from Maplewood, N.J. (Deerfield Academy)
Dan Samuelson — junior, 6’5″, 289 from Plymouth, Ind. (Plymouth)
Juwann Bushell-Beatty — sophomore, 6’6″, 319 from Paramus, N.J. (Paramus Catholic)
Ben Pliska — senior, 6’3″, 277 from Kirkland, Wash. (Lake Washington)

2015 opponent preview: Indiana

Monday, August 10th, 2015


2015 Opponent Preview_INDIANA

NCAA Football: Indiana at Wisconsin(Jeff Hanisch, USA Today Sports)

Our season preview series continues with the first Big Ten squad we have previewed so far. The Indiana Hoosiers are the third-easiest opponent Michigan will face this fall, behind non-conference foes UNLV and Oregon State. Michigan visits the Hoosiers on Nov. 14, just two weeks before the regular season ending battle with Ohio State.

Overview

Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 5 Southern Illinois
Sept. 12 FIU
Sept. 19 Western Kentucky
Sept. 26 at Wake Forest
Oct. 3 Ohio State
Oct. 10 at Penn State
Oct. 17 Rutgers
Oct. 24 at Michigan State
Nov. 7 Iowa
Nov. 14 Michigan
Nov. 21 at Maryland
Nov. 28 at Purdue

After going 1-11 in his first season in Bloomington, Kevin Wilson looked to have the Hoosiers on the upswing. A 4-8 season in 2012 followed by a 5-7 finish in 2013 had Indiana poised to break through in 2014. Instead, the Hoosiers were unable to capture their second winning season in 20 years, falling back to 4-8.

Indiana sandwiched an early season road upset of Missouri with losses to Bowling Green and Maryland and then suffered further setback when quarterback Nate Sudfeld injured his shoulder. The injury forced unheralded true freshman Zander Diamont into action and the results were predictable. In six starts, Diamont completed just 48.5 percent of his passes for 515 yards, one touchdown, and four interceptions. Indiana went 1-5 over that span, beating only lowly rival Purdue to close the season.

Now, Indiana returns the second lowest offensive and defensive production in the Big Ten and it might be Wilson’s last chance to turn the program around. Only Maryland returns a lower percentage of offense (29 percent compared to Indiana’s 40 percent) and defense (44 percent compared to Indiana’s 53 percent), and only Iowa returns a lower percentage of offensive touchdowns (31 percent to Indiana’s 35 percent). Can that somehow equate to a winning season? Let’s take a look.

Offense

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2014 Stats
QB Nate Sudfeld (Sr.) 6’6″, 240 101-167 for 1,151 yds, 6 TD, 3 INT
RB Jordan Howard (Jr.) 6’1″, 225 306 rush for 1,587 yds (5.2 avg), 13 TD (at UAB)
WR Simmie Cobbs (So.) 6’4″, 215 7 rec for 114 yds (16.3 avg), 0 TD
WR Dominique Booth (Fr.) 6’0″, 205
WR Ricky Jones (RS Jr.) 5’10”, 185 3 rec for 58 yds (19.3 avg), 0 TD
TE Anthony Corsaro (Sr.) 6’3″, 250 5 rec for 39 yds (7.8 avg), 0 TD
LT Jason Spriggs (Sr.) 6’7″, 305 10 starts (34 career starts)
LG Jacob Bailey (RS Jr.) 6’5″, 298 2 starts (5 career starts)
C Jake Reed (RS Sr.) 6’4″, 288 4 starts (4 career starts)
RG Dan Feeney (RS Jr.) 6’4″, 305 12 starts (24 career starts)
RT Tim Gardner (RS Fr.) 6’5″, 310 OSU transfer, sat out 2014

In 2014, Indiana ranked 61st nationally in total offense (fifth in the Big Ten), ninth in rushing (third in the Big Ten), 120th in passing (last in the Big Ten), 123rd in pass efficiency (last in the Big Ten), and 87th in scoring offense (10th in the Big Ten). The main factor in Indiana’s offense was running back Tevin Coleman, who ranked second in the Big Ten with 2,036 rushing yards, averaging 169.7 yards per game. His 7.5 yards per attempt matched Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon’s for tops in the conference. But now Coleman is in camp with the Atlanta Falcons as a third round pick in this year’s NFL Draft.

The good news for Wilson is that he has a talented back coming in to replace him. Jordan Howard transferred from Alabama-Birmingham after the program disbanded. He set a UAB single season record with 1,587 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, and scoring 13 touchdowns. His 132.3 yards per game ranked seventh nationally and he earned first team All-Conference USA honors. But he’ll have to beat out sophomore Devine Redding, a Glenville High School product, who showed some promise last season behind Coleman.

The other good news is that Sudfeld is healthy again. He ranked among the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten in 2013 as IU’s pass offense ranked 17th nationally. He was on pace for similar production through the first six games of 2014 before injuring his shoulder and missing the rest of the year. Now, in his senior season, he has one final chance to show what he can do.

The receiving corps has some talent, but not very little proven production. It suffered a big loss when its only returning receiver, J-Shon Harris, suffered an ACL injury in the spring and will miss the entire season. His 18 receptions for 168 yards and two touchdowns led all returning receivers. In fact, he was the only returning receiver on the team that caught a touchdown pass in 2014. His spot will likely be filled by incoming freshman Dominique Booth, a four-star recruit out of Pike High School in Indianapolis. The other expected starters are sophomore Simmi Cobbs and redshirt junior Ricky Jones, who combined for 10 receptions for 172 yards and no scores a year ago.

The strength of the offense should be the line that returns 67 career starts, most notably senior left tackle Jason Spriggs and redshirt junior right guard Dan Feeney. The two have combined for 58 career starts, including 22 in 2014. Left guard Jacob Bailey and center Jake Reed started a combined six games last season, while the expected right tackle is Ohio State transfer Tim Gardner.

Defense

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2014 Stats
DE Nick Mangieri (Sr.) 6’5″, 270 37 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 3 QBH
DT Darius Latham (Jr.) 6’5″, 305 26 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR
NT Nate Hoff (RS So.) 6’2″, 300 29 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks
LB Zack Shaw (RS Sr.) 6’3″, 252 24 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sack, 1 FR, 1 QBH
LB T.J. Simmons (Jr.) 6’0″, 233 72 tackles, 65. TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FR, 2 FF
LB Marcus Oliver (RS So.) 6’1″, 238 10 tackles, 1 FF
LB Tegray Scales (So.) 6’0″, 220 46 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 INT, 2 QBH
CB Rashard Fant (RS So.) 5’10”, 175 23 tackles, 5 PBU, 1 FR
CB Noel Padmore (RS So.) 5’11”, 180
FS Tony Fields (So.) 5’11”, 205 14 tackles, 1 PBU
SS Chase Dutra (RS So.) 6’1″, 205 34 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FF

Indiana had one of the Big Ten’s worst defenses in 2014 and returns only four starters and none from the secondary. The Hoosiers ranked 120th nationally in total defense, 114th in scoring defense, 115th in rush defense, 118th in passing yards allowed, and 103rd in pass efficiency defense. The 32.8 points per game allowed were worse than every team in the Big Ten except Illinois.

There’s a lot to improve on Indiana’s defense, but at least the line is experienced, returning all three starters. Nose tackle Nate Hoff ranked second on the team with 3.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss last season as a redshirt freshman, while defensive tackle Darius Latham recorded 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Last year’s starting defensive end, Bobby Richardson, is gone and so are his team-leading 9.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. But starting outside linebacker Nick Mangieri is making the move back to end, where he played his first two seasons in Bloomington and started 10 games in 2013.

With Mangieri’s move to the line, the Hoosier linebacker corps returns just one starter from a year ago, junior T.J. Simmons. He’s the leading returning tackler with 72 and he also ranked fourth on the team last season with 6.5 tackles for loss. A couple of promising youngsters join Simmons in the middle. Sophomore Tegray Scales was a Big Ten All-Freshman team member last season after notching 46 tackles, 4.5 for loss, two sacks, and three interceptions. Marcus Oliver was an honorable mention Big Ten All-Freshman team member in 2013, but tore his ACL in the third game of the season last year. The fourth linebacker should be fifth-year senior Zack Shaw, who has 36 games of playing experience under his belt.

While there is some talent and experience in the front seven, the secondary will get a complete makeover this fall. Last year’s leading tackler, safety Antonio Allen, should have been back to lead the group, but was kicked off the team in June due to legal troubles. The former U.S. Army All-American will be replaced by sophomore Tony Fields, who recorded 14 tackles and one pass breakup last fall. Strong safety started one game as a redshirt freshman in 2014, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. He tied Scales for the team lead with three interceptions. The corners will likely be a pair of redshirt sophomores, Rashard Fant and Noel Padmore. Fant recorded 23 tackles and ranked second among Big Ten freshmen with five pass breakups. Padmore played exclusively on special teams last season.

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2014 Stats
K Griffin Oakes (RS So.) 5’10”, 197 13-of-18 (72.2%), Long 58
P Erich Toth (RS Sr.) 6’3″, 208 40.7 avg., 18 in-20, 7 50+
KR J-Shunn Harris (So.) 5’8″, 170 19 ret, 20.6 avg
PR J-Shunn Harris (So.) 5’8″, 170 3 ret, 4.0 avg

Both kicking specialists return for a unit that wasn’t very strong overall. Kicker Griffin Oakes was solid, connecting on 13-of-18 field goals and set a school record with a  58-yard field goal against Maryland. It was the longest in the country last season and the 10th-longest field goal in Big Ten history. Punter Erich Toth has two-and-a-half years of experience under his belt and ranks fifth in school history with 177 career punts. Last season’s 77 punts set a school single-season record — not exactly a stat one wants to hold. Indiana ranked 98th nationally in net punting and Toth’s 40.7 yards per punt ranked eighth in the Big Ten.

Sophomore receiver J-Hunn Harris returns to handle the kick return duties and should also take over punt return duties from the departed Shane Wynn. Harris led the team with 19 kick returns for 20.2 yards per return last season, but returned just three punts in 2014.

Outlook

The schedule sets up nicely for Indiana with a non-conference slate of Southern Illinois, FIU, Western Kentucky, and Wake Forest. The first three are at home and only WKU had a winning record among the four (8-5). The schedule gets much tougher after that with Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State in the month of October, with Rutgers in between. November sees Iowa and Michigan visit Memorial Stadium and IU travel to Maryland and Purdue.

Getting seven wins out of that schedule will require the Hoosiers to pull off at least one upset like they did against Missouri last season. But with very little experience in the secondary and no Tevin Coleman, a lot of pressure will be on Sudfeld’s arm. Indiana is looking at yet another bowl-less season.

What it means for Michigan

By the time Michigan visits Indiana, the Wolverines will already have played nine games. I expect the Harbaugh era to gain steam throughout the season — a departure from the previous two coaching staffs — so that bodes well for Michigan in this one. Michigan’s defense will be one of the Big Ten’s best and Indiana doesn’t have the firepower to score enough to keep up. It’s Michigan’s last good chance to get a win with a trip to Penn State the following week and then Ohio State coming to town a week later. But Harbaugh’s boys will get take care of business in Bloomington.

Predicting Michigan 2015: The tight ends

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015


PredictingMichigan-TightEnds
Jake Butt

Among its many other offensive deficiencies last season, Michigan’s offense lacked a consistent tight end threat in the passing game. Devin Funchess’ move to wide receiver left the tight end corps scrambling for a playmaker, and only one tight end finished the season with more than 100 receiving yards.

Enter, Jim Harbaugh. In his takeover of Ann Arbor, the new Michigan head coach brings with him a deep history of success at the tight end position. Zach Ertz, Coby Fleener, and Ryan Hewitt are just a few of the tight ends coached and recruited by Harbaugh at Stanford who ended up in the NFL. Ertz and Fleener each caught more than 50 passes for over 700 yards in the league last season, a trend Harbaugh surely had a hand in.

But does Harbaugh have the talent in place to turn Michigan’s tight ends into weapons in 2015? Here’s a look at the current and incoming members that make up the unit.

Returning starter

Jake Butt is the most likely Michigan tight end to enjoy a legitimate breakout season in 2015. Butt, one of the clear victims of the team’s quarterback struggles, has yet to put a complete season together, scoring twice and gaining more than 200 yards in each of his first two years.

The 6-foot-6 Pickerington, Ohio native has sure hands and solid athleticism and will catch the ball if it gets to him. He caught less than three passes per game last season, but figures to play a larger role in Harbaugh’s offensive game plan. Butt would especially benefit from Jake Rudock winning the starting job, as the fifth-year senior prefers shorter, safer passes to throwing balls downfield.

Despite catching just 41 passes in his first two seasons, Butt is a clear playmaker. He averaged 10 yards per catch last season and was named a member of the watch list for the Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end, last month.

The biggest uncertainty surrounding Butt is whether he can recapture the explosiveness he showed as a freshman before he tore his ACL, an injury that hampered him in 2014. If he can be the elite athlete fans saw flashes of two seasons ago, he will thrive in a featured role in Harbaugh’s offense.

Projected Stats – Butt
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
45 525 11.7 7 40.4
Career Stats
2014 21 211 10.0 29 2 21.1
2013 20 235 11.8 37 2 18.1
Totals 41 446 10.9 37 4 19.4

Role players

Michigan also returns a pair of tight ends who have seen significant playing time during their careers, but pose little threat in the passing attack. A.J. Williams, who scored a touchdown on his only catch in 2013, caught just four passes for 33 yards last season despite playing in all 12 games and starting four of them. Williams is a block-first tight end who was used to support an inexperienced offensive line last season. He’ll likely play a similar role as a senior, albeit losing some snaps to the pass-catching tight ends.

Khalid Hill is another blocking specialist who started three games for Brady Hoke in his final season with the Wolverines. Hill caught four passes for 37 yards and spent most of his time run and pass blocking on next to the line. Hill, like Williams, will likely see the field a bit less in 2015.

Projected Stats – Williams
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
5 40 8.0 0 3.1
Career Stats
2014 4 33 8.3 12 0 2.8
2013 1 2 2.0 2 1 0.2
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 5 35 7.0 12 1 1.0
Projected Stats – Hill
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
3 25 8.3 0 1.9
Career Stats
2014 4 37 9.3 12 0 6.2
2013 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 4 37 9.3 12 0 6.2

Reinforcements

As explosive as Butt can be in the passing game, Michigan needs more than one target and a few blockers to turn the tight end position into a strength. Luckily for Harbaugh, there are two young tight ends ready to play a role for the Maize and Blue.

Though he never saw the field as a freshman, former three-star recruit Ian Bunting was a dangerous downfield threat at Hinsdale Central High School in the Chicago suburbs, catching 27 passes for 583 yards and four touchdowns. The 6-foot-7 Bunting offers a huge target with reliable hands who can go up and win a jump ball over defenders.

Harbaugh and his staff brought another huge tight end to Michigan on National Signing Day: Tyrone Wheatley Jr. Wheatley, whose father was hired to coach running backs at U of M, stands at 6-foot-6 and over 250 pounds, but that doesn’t hold him back as an athlete. He played defensive end and tight end in high school and will be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses at Michigan.

He won’t blow defenders away with his speed and quickness, but he’s athletic enough to beat defenders to the ball and can break tackles after the catch.

With Harbaugh coaching him up, Wheatley has a chance to become the big, powerful home run threat the Michigan offense desperately needs.

Projected Stats – Bunting
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
20 230 11.5 1 17.7
Career Stats
Redshirted in 2014
Projected Stats – Wheatley
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
30 450 15.0 3 34.6

Meet the rest

Chase Winovich — sophomore, 6’3″, 230 from Jefferson Hills, Pa. (Thomas Jefferson), no career stats
Michael Jocz — senior, 6’4″, 231 from Novi, Mich. (Novi), no career stats

Predicting Michigan 2015: The wide receivers

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015


PredictingMichigan-Receivers

Amara Darboh(Matt Pargoff, Maize and Blue News)

For the last several years, Michigan football has seen a drop-off in the production of its wide receiver unit. Though struggling quarterbacks surely deserve a share of the blame, the Wolverines have sorely missed an offensive playmaker of the Braylon Edwards-Mario Manningham-Jason Avant caliber.

Well, Michigan doesn’t have a wideout of that caliber on the current roster; at least, not that we’ve seen so far. But there are a few solid returning options and some new additions with upside that Jim Harbaugh hopes to turn into a dangerous receiving corps.

Returning leaders

Michigan returns only one wide receiver who made a significant contribution to the offense in 2014, redshirt junior Amara Darboh. Darboh, who came into camp in 2013 primed for a breakout year, missed his whole sophomore season due to injury and settled for a return to the field in Brady Hoke’s final year.

Darboh was the team’s best receiver behind Devin Funchess, catching 36 passes for 473 yards and two touchdowns. He set career highs against Indiana when he caught nine passes for 107 yards, including a 34-yard catch that marked his longest of the year. The 6-foot-2, 216-pound Darboh developed into Devin Gardner’s favorite third down target and made some big catches for a Michigan offense that struggled to put together consistent drives.

Jehu Chesson spent much of the season lined up alongside Darboh, but caught just 14 passes for 154 yards. Chesson tried to fill Darboh’s void in 2013, catching 15 passes for 221 yards as a sophomore. But he never broke out in a disappointing sequel last year, catching three passes in a game only once and never gaining more than 34 yards.

Chesson and Darboh are the most experienced wide receivers Michigan carries into the 2015 season, and even though they caught only 50 passes for a combined 627 yards last year, they’re likely the frontrunners to win starting jobs.

Projected Stats – Darboh
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
60 620 10.3 5 47.7
Career Stats
2014 36 473 13.1 34 2 39.4
2013 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 36 473 13.1 34 2 20.6
Projected Stats – Chesson
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
25 240 9.6 3 18.5
Career Stats
2014 14 154 11.0 28 0 14.0
2013 15 221 14.7 58 1 17.0
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 29 375 12.9 58 1 15.6

Returning contributors

Once you get past Darboh and Chesson, factor in the loss of Funchess and potential departure of Dennis Norfleet, there’s little left to celebrate about the returning Michigan receivers.

Perhaps Freddy Canteen, who had a dynamite spring and put on a show with Gardner in last season’s spring game, will turn into the guy who was outrunning cornerbacks during camp before catching just five passes during the season. Canteen is a former four-star recruit who was touted for his size and athleticism after committing to Michigan in June of 2013. At best, Canteen could give the starting quarterback a Greg Mathews-type target who can go up and get the ball over defenders and make plays over the middle of the field.

Two guys who could factor into the mix this season but caught only one pass each in 2014 are Bo Dever and Da’Mario Jones. Jones should have been exactly what the offense needed in 2014. His strengths as a three-star recruit in the class of 2012 were dependable hands and beating defenders to the ball, but he caught just one pass for 11 yards against Miami (Ohio). Dever, who played in 10 games but made just one catch for 26 yards last season, is entering his senior year. The lightly-recruited wideout clearly worked himself into the rotation, but he was rarely targeted by Gardner.

Projected Stats – Canteen
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
25 300 12.0 2 23.1
Career Stats
2014 5 22 4.4 8 1 2.0
Totals 5 22 4.4 8 1 2.0
Projected Stats – Dever
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
20 130 6.5 1 10.0
Career Stats
2014 1 26 26.0 26 0 2.6
2013 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 1 26 26.0 26 0 2.4
Projected Stats – Jones
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
10 80 8.0 0 6.1
Career Stats
2014 1 11 11.0 11 0 1.6
2013 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 1 11 11.0 11 0 0.6

Dark horses

If you’re looking for a diamond in the rough or a potential breakout receiver for Michigan during the upcoming season, there are two players who have an outside shot of making a huge difference.

As of Monday, Harbaugh revealed that he’s open to the possibility of using safety Jabrill Peppers on offense, where he thrived as a freak athlete in high school.

Peppers hauled in 57 passes for 842 yards and 17 touchdowns as a receiver in high school, and although he could also fit into the running back rotation, the receiving corps is a greater need for Michigan and could get a huge boost from an elite talent like Peppers. Peppers is one of the best pure athletes in the country and is fully healthy as the start of the season approaches. If he sees significant snaps on offense, he’ll instantly become the most dangerous threat on the field for the Wolverines.

Another under the radar addition to the offense is former four-star receiver Drake Harris, who missed the entire 2014 season due to a hamstring injury. Harris was one of the top receiver recruits in the country last season because of his elite athleticism and reliable catching ability. In high school he was a deep threat, which Michigan sorely needs, and consistently beat defenders for the jump ball.

Peppers and Harris weren’t even on the offensive radar last season due to injury, but that doesn’t mean they can’t return and be the two best playmakers on the field as redshirt freshmen. The best case scenario for Michigan would be for at least one of these guys to grab the reins and lead an otherwise uncertain receiving corps.

Projected Stats – Peppers
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
30 350 11.7 3 26.9
Career Stats
2014 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Projected Stats – Harris
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
30 280 9.3 3 21.5
Career Stats
2014 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A

Incoming freshmen

Michigan has one potential game-changing wide receiver in the 2015 recruiting class: Brian Cole. The Saginaw native joins Michigan as the top receiver in the Midwest and brings another big target into the mix. Cole is 6-foot-2 and over 200 pounds but still ran a 4.37 40-yard dash during his recruitment. That combination, along with his good hands, could make Cole a top target for whoever wins the quarterback job this fall.

The key for Cole is the transition to a full-time wide receiver this pre-season. He spent most of his high school career playing running back and safety and will have to develop solid route-running skills to make an immediate impact as a freshman.

Projected Stats – Cole
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
25 300 12.0 2 23.1

Meet the rest

Kenneth Sloss — junior, 5’11”, 160 from Monroe, Mich. (Monroe), no career stats
Jack Wangler — junior, 6’1″, 201 from Royal Oak, Mich. (Warren De La Salle), no career stats
Jaron Dukes — junior, 6’4″, 204 from Columbus, Ohio (Marion Franklin), no career stats
Brad Anlauf — senior, 6’4″, 199 from Hinsdale, Ill. (Hinsdale Central), no career stats
Maurice Ways — sophomore, 6’4″, 205 from Beverly Hills, Mich. (Detroit Country Day), no career stats