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Posts Tagged ‘Drake Harris’

Predicting Michigan 2016: The wide receivers

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016


Predicting Michgian 2016-WideReceivers

Nov 7, 2015; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Jehu Chesson (86) celebrates his touchdown in the first quarter against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports(Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports)

Previous: Quarterbacks, Running Backs

When Jim Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor over a year ago, he inherited a Michigan team with an uncharacteristic lack of star power at wide receiver. Devin Funchess had already announced his intentions to enter the NFL Draft and no other player on the roster had recorded 500 yards or 40 catches.

But in just one year, Harbaugh took two redshirt juniors and turned them into dangerous playmakers in a new offense. Now, as fifth-year seniors, they’ll be asked to carry the load in a receiver corps dominated by young, unproven players.

Returning Starters

Breakout seasons from Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh couldn’t have come at a better time last year. With Jake Rudock taking over the offense and Funchess off to the NFL, Harbaugh managed to squeeze more than 100 catches, over 1,400 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns out of the duo.

Chesson’s game really transformed in 2015 as he turned into a more well-rounded offensive weapon. Along with catching 50 passes, Chesson also carried the ball eight times for 155 yards and two touchdowns. He was Jabrill Peppers’ best return game partner and one of his biggest plays of the season was a kick return touchdown to shock Northwester on the opening play.

Chesson was voted the team’s MVP at the postseason banquet, but Harbaugh has promoted Darboh as the team’s best wideout heading into 2016.

Darboh was Rudock’s favorite target early in the season and really played a consistent wide receiver for Michigan throughout the year. He has the most reliable hands on the team at wide receiver and can win a jump ball if the quarterback throws it up. His 58 catches led the team and he has a great chance to repeat that as a senior.

Chesson and Darboh have turned into one of the best wide receiver duos in the country and whoever wins the starting quarterback job will be in good hands come Sept. 3.

Projected Stats – Chesson
Receptions Yards YPC Long TD YPG
45 680 15.1 7 52.3
Career Stats
2015 50 764 15.3 64 9 58.8
2014 14 154 11.0 28 0 14.0
2013 15 221 14.7 58 1 17.0
2012 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Totals 79 1,139 14.4 64 10 30.8
Projected Stats – Darboh
Receptions Yards YPC Long TD YPG
60 750 12.5 6 57.7
Career Stats
2015 58 727 12.5 39 5 55.9
2014 36 473 13.1 34 2 39.4
2013 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2012 0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 94 1,200 12.8 39 7 33.3
Returning contributors

The top two spots on the depth chart are obviously clear cut, but the third wide receiver slot is seemingly up for grabs.

After the spring game, it certainly seems like Grant Perry is a top candidate to win the job. Perry caught only 14 passes for 128 yards last season, but he was Wilton Speight’s favorite target in April’s spring game.

Sep 3, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Grant Perry (9) lines up for a play during the second half against the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Utah won 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

(Russ Isabella, USA Today Sports)

Perry was targeted more than any other receiver on April 1, catching three passes for 30 yards. He looked like the No. 1 receiver with both Chesson and Darboh on the sidelines.

Perry — the No. 2 receiver from Michigan in the 2014 recruiting class — isn’t a huge playmaker, but a reliable target who runs his routes well and catches the balls that get to him. He might not be as explosive as other options, but Harbaugh knows Perry could be the best option for an unproven quarterback.

Then there’s Drake Harris.

Harris came to Ann Arbor as one of the most anticipated recruits of the Brady Hoke era. The state’s top receiver out of Grand Rapids, Harris looked like a player who would step in and help the team right away.

But injury and inconsistency have pushed Harris out of the spotlight. He caught only six passes for 39 yards last season and didn’t touch the ball the second half of the year.

Harris has good hands and excellent athleticism, so there’s still a chance he could stay healthy and put everything together to be a solid weapon for Michigan. But at this point, he’s on the outside of the starting lineup and looking like more of a rotation guy.

The only other returning wide receiver who saw the field last season is Maurice Ways, a junior out of Beverly Hills, Michigan.

Ways picked up three catches for 40 yards last season, so he wasn’t much of a factor in the offense. When Harbaugh announced the junior would have foot surgery in March, it looked like a severe uphill battle for Ways to get into the wide receiver rotation.

But Ways is back on the field and participating in drills, which means he could be ready to contribute when September rolls around. The former 3-star recruit has good hands and checks in at 6 foot 4, so don’t count him out of the competition for the No. 3 spot just yet.

Projected Stats – Perry
Receptions Yards YPC Long TD YPG
30 280 9.3 3 21.5
Career Stats
2015 14 128 9.1 25 1 9.8
Totals 14 128 9.1 25 1 9.8
Projected Stats – Harris
Receptions Yards YPC Long TD YPG
15 200 13.3 1 15.4
Career Stats
2015 6 39 6.5 13 0 4.3
Totals 6 39 6.5 13 0 4.3
Projected Stats – Ways
Receptions Yards YPC Long TD YPG
10 120 12.0 0 9.2
Career Stats
2015 3 40 13.3 21 0 3.6
2014 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Totals 3 40 13.3 21 0 3.6
New Faces

One of the highlights of Michigan’s elite 2016 recruiting class is the group of wide receivers Harbaugh pulled from all around the country.

Five new receivers joined the roster in 2016, including early enrollee Ahmir Mitchell. Mitchell was one of the top freshmen featured in the spring game, and his size really stood out.

As the No. 1 receiver out of New Jersey, Mitchell figures to have a chance to play this season. He’s a home run threat that Michigan needs behind Chesson and he’s also big enough to win matchups over the middle.

Dylan Crawford, a 6-foot wide receiver with great hands out of Santa Margarita, could also play a role this season. Crawford is touted as a fundamentally sound receiver who can run routes and has good speed. His ceiling might not be as high as the New Jersey duo’s, but he could be closer to contributing early in his career.

The other two freshmen — Eddie McDoom and Nate Johnson — are explosive playmakers and could find themselves playing in the slot. They don’t have the size of some of Michigan’s other wide receivers, but fill a major hole in the playmaking category. Harbaugh might consider redshirting one or both of the freshmen due to the depth at wide receiver.

New Jersey star Brad Hawkins was also supposed to be a member of this class, but had NCAA Clearinghouse issues and will put off his enrollment until next year. Instead, he will spend this fall at Suffield Academy (Conn.) prep school.

Projected Stats – Mitchell
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
20 150 7.5 2 11.5
Projected Stats – Hawkins
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
5 30 6.0 0 2.3
Projected Stats – Crawford
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
5 50 10.0 0 3.8

M&GB staff predictions: Utah

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015


StaffPicks_banner2015

Game day is finally here, 247 days after Jim Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor as Michigan’s new head coach. This morning we posted our full game preview and now it’s time to allow each of the writers on our staff to make their prediction.

Justin: There’s no doubt that Harbaugh will have the team well prepared for the first game of the season. The question is how much have they improved since last fall? Expected starting quarterback Jake Rudock should provide an upgrade at the position if only because he will take care of the ball and manage the offense. If the offensive line can give him time, Rudock should be able to test the relatively inexperienced secondary. But the line will have to fend off Dimick and Fanaika. Utah ranked sixth in the Pac-12 against the run last season, so look for Harbaugh to pound his running back committee of De’Veon Smith, Derrick Green, Ty Isaac, and Drake Johnson.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Utah
Justin 23 26
Derick 20 27
Sam 21 13
Josh 19 27
Joe 28 35
M&GB Average 22 26

Utah’s offense will do the same, feeding Booker early and often. If Michigan can stop him the Wolverines will have a great chance to win. Wilson wasn’t flashy last season, but he took care of the ball, so Michigan will need to find a pass rush from its unproven defensive line if it wants to force him to make a mistake.

Special teams will likely play a big factor in this game and the heavy favorite in that category goes to Utah, which has arguably the best kicker and punter tandem in the country. Michigan, meanwhile, will be breaking in a new kicker and punter. In last season’s matchup, Kaelin Clay returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown and Michigan may need to return the favor — perhaps from Jabrill Peppers — to get a win.

In a defensive battle where one team has a significant edge on special teams, and that team happens to be the home team, I just have to lean that way.

Utah 26 – Michigan 23

Derick: It’s been a crazy offseason for Michigan, operating under a new president and athletic director, flipping and losing big-name recruits and bringing in the highest profile coach in the country.

But now it’s finally time to hit the field and see what this team can actually do. There’s no doubt Jim Harbaugh inherited a talented roster, but how quickly can he turn around a program that’s been a hot mess for the better part of a decade?

Unfortunately for Michigan, the new system will make its debut on the road against a talented, veteran Utah team that won nine games last season. Running back Devontae Booker runs behind a solid offensive line that will put Michigan’s defensive line depth to the test right out of the gate.

Michigan will improve throughout the 2015 season. Nothing in Harbaugh’s track record suggests otherwise. But I think the Wolverines, behind a new quarterback and a thin group of wide receivers, will struggle to put together a consistent offensive attack in Week 1.

Michigan will battle the Utes in the opener, but fall.

Utah 27 – Michigan 20

Sam: (Sam was unable to provide a full breakdown this week but sent his score prediction)

Michigan 21 – Utah 13

Josh: On the road at night in Rice-Eccels stadium against a team that beat the crap out of you in your own house last year is a tough way to start the season. But thankfully we’ve got Harbaugh this time around. The bad news is it’s probably way too soon for the full Harbaugh effect to have taken place.

Utah is solid defensively and Michigan is probably not going to have a high-octane offense, even IF Drake Harris is who we thought he was. Devantae Booker this year is not the guy who only gained 30-some odd yards on Michigan last year, he’s likely to go over 100 yards and that will open up the pass game for Utah. Michigan has one corner, yes just one, that is proven right now so unless the combo of Stribling and Clark perform up to task they’ll see a lot of balls thrown their way with not so good results for Michigan.

Jake Rudock is a huge upgrade from Devin Gardner, not in talent but in consistency and making the right play-iveness (that’s a new word, mark it down). He won’t turn it over and if the run game can be halfway decent this could be an interesting game. However, I don’t see the run game doing much, and with no threat to take the top off the defense this is going to be a low scoring, defensive battle. That means it’s going to come down to special teams.

While Michigan has gotten an upgrade at special teams coordinator as well, these things take time. Again, Rome was not built in a day (or even one offseason). They’ll play well and we’re guaranteed to see 11 men on the field at all times but if this game comes down to kicking, and it likely will, Michigan is in a heap of trouble. Not one experienced kicker on the roster and no separation among them (word is it’s NOT because no one can miss).

Utah has their cupcakes and eats them too, courtesy of the sports authority publication that is Popular Mechanics. The Harbaugh era starts with a loss but the team does not look lost or too soft or just plain awful. It will get better as the season wears on.

Utah 27 – Michigan 19 (three touchdowns and two failed two-point conversions)

Joe: Game day is finally here and I am officially ready to get this show on the road. I haven’t been able to sleep all week. This has been one heck of an off season and should only get better as this team grows and takes on the coach’s personality. The only question I have is how long will that take to happen?

I think we will have a fundamentally sound team on both sides of the ball with Jabrill Peppers and Joe Bolden leading the way on a solid defense. The offense is led by a solid running backs corps. If Isaac is healthy , the running back threesome will turn some heads. Whoever the starting quarterback is will be asked to manage games and not turn the ball over. This could mean Rudock is the man…ZZZZzzzzzz……… While this doesn’t excite me, it could be for the best. With some “better than average” ball control, this unit can take over some games and surprise some people.

Special teams is still a huge question mark but should be okay with a very good punter in transfer in Blake O’Neill. Did I just reference a punter? Yep, it’s time to get some sleep. I can’t wait for game time, but think we will end up on the wrong side of things in Harbaugh’s debut. At least the tailgate food will be top-notch. Go Blue.

Utah 35 – Michigan 28 

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 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

Big Ten Media Day Transcript: Brady Hoke (podium)

Monday, July 28th, 2014


Hoke at podium

Day one of Big Ten Media Days is in full swing and Brady Hoke was the fifth coach to take to the podium on Monday morning. He delivered an opening statement and then answered questions about Jabrill Peppers, the offensive line, the competition for positions, Ty Isaac, and more. Below is the full transcript, as provided by the Big Ten and ASAP Sports.

Opening statement

COACH HOKE: We’re all excited for another season to get started and looking forward to the start of fall camp on Sunday. Our football team has come together this summer and worked very hard. I think they’ve worked hard and I think a lot of that is the foundation that’s been laid over the last three years and the depth that we have on our football team, it’s as competitive as a team that I’ve been around at all positions.

And I think that is exactly what, as Michigan, the leaders and the best, we should have. And so the way they’ve come together, the things they’ve done, we’re excited about. You never know what kind of team you’re going to have until the season’s over.

But the one thing I can tell you, that we’re encouraged by the qualities we have seen from our football team and throughout the spring and throughout the summer. Again, I believe the foundation has been laid. And you’re going to talk with three of our great representatives in Jake Ryan, Frank Clark, and Devin Gardner who have represented Michigan in a positive way.

We’re excited for August. We need to have a good August camp. And I think every coach in here will tell you that. You need to stay healthy, but you better be competitive and you better be good. And you better have a great camp. And so excited about that coming up.

We’ve got a great schedule. Okay. It’s a good schedule. But the schedule starts on August 30th with Appalachian State, and that’s where our focus will be, because you can’t win all your games unless you win the first game.

And expectations at Michigan are what they are and what they should be. They’re high. And so we’re excited about getting that started.

Staff-wise, Doug Nussmeier, who has come in and done a tremendous job offensively, came in with a championship pedigree, came in with a pedigree of molding quarterbacks. And what I’ve seen, and his track record speaks for itself, but it’s not just something that speaks for it, he’s doing it on a daily basis.

The moves that we made in the secondary and on defense, allowing Coach Mattison to be more involved from the middle of the defense instead of up front only has been very positive.

The movement of Jake Ryan to the inside of our defense has been very positive. I think Roy Manning coaching our corners and Curt Mallory coaching the safeties, because of the variables with the offense you face, I think has been something very positive for our football team and positive for our players.

Last, and I’ll take questions, we’re very proud of who we are, and we will continue to be proud of what kind of young men, student-athletes we have at Michigan.

Q&A

I just want to know, back in June, you had done the interview I believe with Bonnie Bernstein talking about Jabrill and the fact that he would come in at nickel. You’ve had the summer; you’ve probably talked to some of your players about what they’ve seen out of him. Is the plan still to play him at nickel or safety or corner when you open fall camp?
“That hasn’t changed. The plan hasn’t changed. I think we’ve got to be careful about anointing any true freshmen starting their college career, but that’s where he will start.”

Your program has a very great storied tradition. Your stadium has a great storied tradition. On Saturday, I believe the big house is supposed to break the record for the highest attended soccer game in American history. That’s two of the biggest storied traditions of clubs. Are you going to take your team? Have you been involved with that at all or any —
“I’d like to be, but I won’t be, simply because our freshmen, that’s their first day coming in as far as some of the administrative details we need to take care of.

“But I think we’re going to break a record.”

You’re in the East Division. How daunting is that division? How do you think it kind of shakes out?
“I think it’s a great competitive division. How it shakes out, we’ll find out. But as far as the competitiveness of the division, and at the end of the day, you know, it’s whatweallwanttodo,andweallwanttodoiswe want to compete. We want to compete on every Saturday.

“So as far as we’re concerned, we’re looking forward to it.”

Coach, how far into fall camp do you anticipate going before determining an offensive line for the sake of consistency and seeing those guys play together as a unit?
“I think we’ll start camp with a lineup that we’ve come out of spring with, and that will be based some things on what has been done during the course of the summer and when you see the work ethic and all those things, but a lot of it will be based on coming out spring football obviously.

“So we’ll go through that lineup, but at the same time what will change it up every day a little bit to see where the pieces fit. But I wouldn’t say — take two weeks maybe at the most.”

Considering how last season ended, has the pressure become bigger heading into this year for you to perform?
“You know, why do you coach? I mean, why do you really coach? If we’re doing everything we can for 115 guys, sons on our roster, from the graduation, since we’ve been there, 69 of 69 seniors have graduated. That’s important.

“Because football’s only going to last so long. So the only pressure is every day preparing those guys for life after football. Competition, hard work and all that, that’s part of it. But socially and academically, that’s a big part of it.

“So when you talk about that, that’s the only pressure as a coach that I’ve ever felt – making sure we’re doing it for the student-athletes.”

We’re going into a new era with college football with the playoff in the ’14 playoff, last year the Big Ten kind of struggled in the marquee non-conference games. This year the list of them is top to bottom you play Notre Dame and Michigan State’s playing Oregon. How important for the Big Ten and its champion, whoever gets out of this conference, will it be for the conference as a whole to do better in those non-conference games?
“First and foremost, we’re very proud of the Big Ten Conference. Very proud of the schools and the competition and the way our teams play and how our schools from an academic standpoint graduate student-athletes.

“Do we want to win every game? There’s no question every guy who is going to be at this podium, they want to win every game. And when you talk about the non-conference schedule, we welcome those challenges. I know our conference does and I think our conference is going to play very well in those games.”

You mentioned about having as much competition at every position that you’ve ever been a part of or that you’ve seen in the foundation that you’ve laid there. So usually the first step toward narrowing the gap between where you are and where you want to be?
“You know what, ask that one more time because I missed some part of it.”

The competition, the amount of competition that you have at every — is that really the first step toward narrowing the gap from where you are and where you want to be in any place you’ve been in the past?
“Yeah, I think so. I think that’s always been part of it. We had a very good year in 2011, ’11-12. We played in the Sugar Bowl. But because of depth, Mike Martin played 82 plays as a nose tackle. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy, because that’s playing a lot of snaps and that’s taking a lot of hits.

“But if it was today, Mike Martin would play 50 plays. So that’s what we have now.”

Michigan has a history of playing the MAC early on. What sort of relationship does that program have with the Mid-American where you can have those non-conference games scheduled so easily?
“Well, I think it’s always been a nice — I was head coach of Ball State and we played Indiana twice. We played Purdue twice. Played Michigan once. I think it’s great for the Mid-American Conference, which I have a ton of respect for, and I think it’s great for regionally for families. I think it’s both for both schools, and obviously you’ve seen the Mid-American Conference teams come in and play awfully well and beat some of the Big Ten teams.

“So I think it’s a great partnership because of the competitive base.”

You mentioned Doug and what he’s done so far. But where have you seen the difference that he’s made, tangible changes he’s made? And also as far as Peppers, when can we anoint him?
“Let’s anoint him when he does something, right? I mean, let’s see what he can do.

“What Doug has done, is I think when you watch the practice in the spring, you watch the tempo of the offense, you watch the physicalness every day that guys are playing with, I think that’s where it starts.”

Is there any update right now on Drake Harris’s health, and are there any players you expect —
“Drake Harris, he’s fine.”

Any players you expect will be limited going into camp?
“No, not yet, not that I can think of or that I want to share at this time.”

Curious if you know anything about Ty Isaac and his potential eligibility.
“As far as the hardship and everything, we don’t know of anything. We expect Ty to report on August 3rd, and we’re still going through the hardship with compliance and all those things.”

Could you talk about the last — in the foreseeable future, your match-up with Notre Dame this year, and is that a little more emphasized with your players this year?
“It definitely will be an emphasis, simply because it’s a national rivalry. It’s a shame that that series is over with, because of the national rivalry that it carried with it.”

They changed the divisions obviously in the Big Ten this year, Ohio State and Michigan now in the same division. Obviously that game means so much, but now as a division game with what you thought, were you happy to see that change made?
“Yeah, I mean as long as those two great programs, you know, with their storied history, are still playing.”page3image27128page3image27288page3image28056

Predicting Michigan: The wide receivers

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014


Predicting Michigan-Receivers

Devin Funchess, Jake ButtWhen wide receiver Jeremy Gallon walked off the field in Arizona after Michigan’s loss to Kansas State, the Wolverines lost 42.6 percent of their receiving yards for the season and the top playmaker on the team.

Michigan’s receiving corps was a one-man wrecking crew in 2013, with Gallon averaging 15.5 yards per catch and scoring nine times. His departure leaves room for a deep group of young wide outs to grow with the rest of the Wolverine offense.

Previously: Quarterbacks, running backs

The Starters

Canteen showed plenty of promise in his first spring

Canteen showed plenty of promise in his first spring

Devin Funchess represents Michigan’s top returning receiver after transitioning from tight end to wide out during the 2013 season. Funchess was moved to receiver officially after playing a tight end-wide receiver hybrid position that highlighted the tall sophomore’s downfield skills.

As a junior, Funchess will be asked to show more consistency in the receiving game. Though he was one of the more explosive options for Devin Gardner in 2013, catching 49 passes for 748 yards, he struggled with concentration lapses that turned into dropped passes. Funchess holds all the tools to be a dominant receiver in the Big Ten, as his size and athleticism make him a mismatch for virtually every defender in the conference.

Funchess is more valuable to the Michigan offense as a wide receiver because of a 6’5″, 230 pound frame that makes him a huge red zone target. The former tight end has done his best work in the end zone for the Wolverines, catching 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons in Ann Arbor.

Michigan entered spring camp with a second wide receiver position wide open until a true freshman charged out of the pack to grab the spot. Freddy Canteen dazzled the coaching staff the day he stepped on campus and has been the talk of the team ever since. The lightning-fast receiver turned heads with his quick feet and athleticism, leaving no doubt that he will line up opposite Funchess for the Wolverines on August 30.

Canteen and Funchess give Michigan a receiving duo with a remarkably high ceiling. Funchess can only benefit from an offseason exclusively dedicated to becoming a wide receiver, and Canteen’s quick rise up the depth chart offers him the opportunity to blossom with first-team reps.

Projected Stats – Funchess
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
65 900 13.8 8 69.2
Career Stats
2013 49 748 15.3 59 6 57.5
2012 15 234 15.6 30 5 18.0
Totals 64 982 15.3 59 11 37.8
Projected Stats – Canteen
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
35 600 17.1 5 46.2

Veteran Depth

Darboh was in line to start last fall before a foot injury sidelined him for the season (Scout.com)

Darboh was in line to start last fall before a foot injury sidelined him for the season (Scout.com)

Depth at wide receiver is one of the biggest questions facing the Michigan offense as it prepares for the 2014 season. Jehu Chesson is the only returning wide receiver that recorded over 100 yards in 2013, doing so on just 15 receptions.

Chesson was the forgotten man for much of his redshirt freshman season, playing in all 13 games but catching three or fewer passes in each one of them. Despite his inconsistency last season, the sophomore will be asked to provide stability to an otherwise young group of wide receivers in 2014.

Chesson’s struggles can be largely attributed to the circumstances that thrust him into the regular rotation last season. Amara Darboh was well on his way to earning a starting position last fall before suffering a foot injury in August and missing the entire season. The explosive sophomore has been rehabbing his injury throughout the past eight months and appears ready to make a return to a unit that sorely needs him.

Darboh sat out the spring game, but announced that he feels 100 percent and hopes to be a full participant in fall camp. If he regains his previous form, Darboh will be a huge asset to the offense, as his hands were the surest of the young receivers in camp last offseason. His pure catching ability offers Michigan a Junior Hemmingway-type player that can beat defenders to the ball.

If Doug Nussmeier decided to utilize a slot receiver, then junior Dennis Norfleet is the most likely candidate to earn that role. Michigan regularly features the speedy Norfleet as a kick returner because of his big-play potential; but the junior’s quickness could make him a valuable weapon in the passing game, in which he caught six passes for 46 yards last season.

Projected Stats – Chesson
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
25 350 14.0 3 26.9
Career Stats
2013 15 221 14.7 58 1 17.0
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 15 221 14.7 58 1 17.0
Projected Stats – Darboh
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
18 200 11.1 2 15.4
Career Stats
2013 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Projected Stats – Norfleet
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
12 100 8.3 0 7.7
Career Stats
2013 6 46 7.7 15 0 3.5
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 6 46 7.7 15 0 3.5

Newcomers

Brady Hoke added a major piece to the receiving corps when Drake Harris committed to the Wolverines out of Grand Rapids. The consensus four-star turned heads during his junior season in high school, catching 91 passes for 2,016 yards and 23 touchdowns. Harris was considered one of the top recruits in his class before missing his entire senior season with a hamstring injury.

Harris sat alongside Darboh in the spring game, continuing a quiet offseason for the talented receiver. At 6’4″, Harris could be a valuable target during his freshman campaign, but health concerns will continue to surround the youngster until he steps foot on the field.

Michigan’s roster also features a host of young receivers hoping to crack the lineup this fall. Da’Mario Jones was blocked by Chesson last season after Darboh’s injury figured to bring him into the mix. Former three-star recruit Jaron Dukes is eligible in 2014 after redshirting his freshman season and could earn playing time with a strong spring.

Projected Stats – Harris
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
22 300 13.6 2 23.1

Countdown to kickoff: 86 days

Thursday, June 5th, 2014


Countdown to kickoff-86

Burning questions as Michigan football opens spring practice

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014


Morris-Gardner(Detroit News)

It has been just 59 days since Michigan’s season wrapped up with an underwhelming loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The 2014 season seems eons away as basketball season is about to head into conference tournaments and then the Big Dance. But while it may be hard to turn our attention back to football, Brady Hoke’s squad is set to return to the gridiron today to kick off spring practice.

Last season was as disappointing as any in recent memory because no one expected it to go the way it did. Most preseason expectations ranged from 9-4 to 11-2, and after the Wolverines topped Notre Dame in Under the Lights II, there was even some talk of national championship possibilities. Of course, Michigan followed up the high of that game with a thud against Akron, needing a last-second goal line stand to hold off what may have been a bigger upset than when Appalachian State stunned the Wolverines in 2007. And the season unraveled from there.

Now, needing to get the bad taste of 2013 out of its system, Michigan has a 2014 season opener to look forward to against, well, Appalachian State. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the biggest questions the Wolverines face heading into spring ball.

How much will Gardner be able to do this spring with a new offensive system to learn? (MGoBlue.com)

How much will Gardner be able to do this spring with a new offensive system to learn? (MGoBlue.com)

How healthy is Devin Gardner?

Brady Hoke turned some heads earlier this month when he seemed to imply that the starting quarterback role was up for grabs this fall.

“I think (the starting quarterback for next season) is an unknown,” Hoke said. “We were 7-6 (last season). And we’ve got a lot of young guys (on the team). We’ve got a lot of competition.”

In a technical sense it’s true. Gardner finished the 2013 season in a walking boot and couldn’t even play in the bowl game. Until he’s fully healthy he can’t be 100 percent presumed the starter. What if the injury is even worse than thought? What if it continues to linger throughout the offseason?

But assuming Gardner is able to fully heal there’s no question he’s the starter on Aug. 30. The main question is how much will he be able to do in spring ball?

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will be the third Gardner has had in his career, and although he didn’t start under Calvin McGee, it will still be the third offensive system he has had to learn. Nussmeier has done wonders for the quarterbacks he has coached during his quick rise up the ranks, from Jeff Smoker to Drew Stanton to Tom Brandstater to Jake Locker to Keith Price to A.J. McCarron.

Sophomore-to-be Shane Morris is likely to benefit the most from Nussmeier’s quarterback expertise since he has three more years to work with him, but Gardner could very well take a significant leap in 2014 given his talent and experience. In 2003, Nussmeier helped Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker set a school record 3,395 passing yards after struggling as a junior. He then helped Drew Stanton improve from 1,601 yards in his first season to 3,077 the next year. Most recently, he helped Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron improve on a near flawless 2012 season.

It will be important for Gardner to participate in spring drills to continue the work that he has built upon the past four years, but most importantly to work with Nussmeier and learn his offense. Gardner can still do that if not at full speed, but it’s obviously better to learn at full speed than not.

Who will catch passes?

Jeremy Gallon graduated and took 42.6 percent of last season’s receiving yards with him. Add the production lost from fellow seniors Drew Dileo, Jeremy Jackson, Joe Reynolds, and Fitzgearld Toussaint — who finished as the team’s fourth-leading pass catcher — and Michigan has just 41.3 percent of its production returning.

Jehu Chesson is Michigan's leading returning true receiver with just 15 receptions (MGoBlue.com)

Jehu Chesson is Michigan’s leading returning true receiver with just 15 receptions (MGoBlue.com)

To make matters worse, tight end Jake Butt tore his ACL in offseason workouts, and while he’s likely to return at some point during the season, he may not be 100 percent. Devin Funchess was almost certain to make the official move to the outside prior to Butt’s injury, but with no other established pass catching tight end, Michigan may not be afforded to move him permanently.

The leading returning true receiver is Jehu Chesson, who caught just 15 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown. No other true wide receiver that caught a pass returns. The x-factor will be Chesson’s classmate, Amara Darboh, who was in line to start last season before a foot injury in fall camp sidelined him for the season. At 6’2″ and 212 pounds, Darboh has the size to be a formidable outside receiver, but will his foot be healthy enough to fully participate in spring ball? He impressed last spring and fall before sustaining the injury. Can he regain that form?

The unknowns are the cadre of true and redshirt freshmen that have been brought in in the past two recruiting classes. Jaron Dukes, Csont’e York, and Da’Mario Jones all redshirted in 2013 and Freddy Canteen, Drake Harris, and Maurice Ways are incoming. Of the latter group, Canteen and Harris enrolled early and will have a chance to show what they can do while getting their feet wet this spring.

All five have good height but will need to add some bulk to their thin frames, Canteen (6’3″, 170) and Harris (6’4″, 180) especially. Chesson played last season at 6’3″, 196 and seemed thin at times. York was listed at 6’3″, 180 last season, while Jones was 6’2″, 192 and Dukes 6’4″, 190, but by the time the spring roster is released, they will have surely added some muscle with a full season under their belts.

There is plenty of young talent and great size to go around, but who steps up and garners that hype that Darboh did a year ago before his injury will be one of the biggest aspects to watch this spring.

How will the line shape up?

The biggest disappointment in 2013 was undoubtedly the poor performance of the offensive line. While senior left tackle Taylor Lewan earned the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award for the second straight year and right tackle Michael Schofield was solid, the interior was a sieve all season. Several different combinations were used throughout the season and the coaching staff even went as far as to try odd tackle over formations to utilize Lewan’s strengths in order to hide other weaknesses, but nothing seemed to make the offense any more efficient.

With the bookends gone to graduation and a new offensive coordinator the development of the line will be interesting to watch. Much was said throughout last season about Brady Hoke’s supposed inability to develop offensive line talent, but let’s not forget that his first full class was redshirt freshmen in 2013. Most linemen, even the most highly rated ones, don’t gain starting roles on the line until two or three years into their careers at minimum.

Graham Glasgow and Erik Magnuson struggled in 2013 but gained experience that will help them in 2014 (MGoBlue.com)

Graham Glasgow and Erik Magnuson struggled in 2013 but gained experience that will help them in 2014 (MGoBlue.com)

Highly-ranked offensive line hauls are great, but we shouldn’t have begun to sniff the payoffs until this upcoming season at the earliest. In a normal situation without the attrition from previous classes decimating the line depth, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson, Blake Bars, and Ben Braden would have simply played reserve roles in 2013, heading into the spring of their redshirt sophomore season looking to work their way into the starting lineup. Instead, Kalis and Magnuson, along with true freshman Kyle Bosch, were forced into action before they were clearly ready and it showed. While that hurt the offense in 2013 it should pay dividends in 2014 as they can build upon the experience they gained.

One thing that is for certain is that, aside from injuries, everybody will get a chance to compete throughout spring practice for a major role this fall. Magnuson and Chris Bryant — both of whom started games last season — will be held out due to injury, but aside from that, who emerges as the starters is anyone’s guess.

Hoke hinted that they would start the spring with Logan Tuley-Tillman, David Dawson, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis, and Ben Braden as the starting five from left to right, and the competition would go from there.

“We’ll obviously start with a five, but all that is going to be competitive, and with a young team, to some degree, even though they played a little bit, you’ve got to have it competitive,” Hoke said.

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier won’t bring huge changes, but he will simplify the schemes the line uses in the running game. Last year, Hoke and then-offensive coordinator Al Borges tried just about everything they could think of to find something that worked. This year, Nussmeier will start with a basic inside zone and build from there. Whichever five emerge from the April 5 spring game as the starters will carry confidence and cohesiveness into fall camp.

How will the defensive coaching shakeups impact the defense?

Nussmeier replacing Borges was the only coaching staff change this offseason, but last week Hoke announced that the roles of several defensive coaches would be shaken up in an effort to create a more aggressive defense and streamline the staff. Most notably, Hoke won’t be coaching any specific position groups himself. He spent the past three seasons coaching the defensive line. Stepping back will allow him to take a larger role and perhaps devote more time to areas that may have been overlooked in the past.

Greg Mattison switches from coaching the defensive line to linebackers this season (MGoBlue.com)

Greg Mattison switches from coaching the defensive line to linebackers this season (MGoBlue.com)

Mark Smith, who has coached the linebackers the past few seasons, will take over the defensive line, while defensive coordinator Greg Mattison moves to the linebackers. Mattison coached the Baltimore Ravens linebackers — and good ones like Ray Lewis — and said on National Signing Day that he has been looking for bigger linebackers. Smith, meanwhile, spent 15 of his 32 years as a defensive line coach, but hasn’t specifically coached the position since 2002 at Indiana State.

Curt Mallory will be taking on more of a specialized role with just the safeties after coaching the entire secondary the past three seasons, while Roy Manning will take over the defensive backs. Manning was hired prior to last season to coach the outside linebackers.

“Everyone on the staff and the kids are really excited about these changes,” Hoke said. “Greg and I met and felt this was the best for everyone, including him and his ability to coach a position group and run a defense from the middle. When you look at Mark’s experience on the defensive line, then being able to split the secondary, where you have five positions and 20-plus guys, and with the way offense and passing has changed in college football, I think it balances our staff on that side of the ball.”

Michigan’s defense has gone downhill in each of the three seasons under the current staff. In year one, Hoke and Mattison transformed what was a sieve under Rich Rodriguez into the nation’s 17th-best total defense and sixth-best scoring defense. But those numbers have fallen the past two seasons from 13th and 19th in 2012 to 41st and 66th last season. While the offense had its share of well-publicized struggles, the defense was virtually unable to stop anyone over the second half of the season.

The coaching staff shakeup sounds like a sign of desperation at first glance, a coach trying one last ditch set of moves in order to save his job. That may be partially true, but it’s certainly worth a shot. Moving Mattison to coach the middle of the defense makes a lot of sense as that’s where he coached in Baltimore and the linebackers run the defense. Hoke stepping back from coaching a position group also seems like the right move, and Smith taking over a group with which he has considerable — if not recent — experience could invigorate the line. Finally, splitting the secondary among two coaches also make sense since there are so many bodies among the cornerbacks and safeties.

In a perfect world, the moves will create excitement among the players — at the very least shake up any complacency or entitlement that may exist. Even though Nussmeier is the only new addition to the staff, the whole defense will be playing for a new position coach and thus fighting even harder to make a statement and earn playing time. Should it have gotten to that point? No. But it can only be a good thing throughout the spring.

National Signing Day: Visualizing Michigan’s 2014 class

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014


2014 Class Visualization