Five for Friday: Spring Storylines for the Michigan Wolverines
By Tony Gerdeman
Saturday will kick off Michigan's spring football practices, so now seems like a perfect time to take a look at a few areas of concern for the Maize and Blue that will attempt to be addressed over the next four weeks.
The Wolverines return a handful of starters on both sides of the ball. With six starters back on defense, Michigan gets a good start. However, not all of those six starters were exactly productive. Brennen Beyer, for instance, started nine games at defensive end, yet finished with just 0.5 tackles for loss.
Offensively, they have six starters back as well, as long as you count tight end Devin Funchess and slot receiver Drew Dileo as one player. Losing Denard Robinson isn't an easy fix, but having to deal with his injury last season should make for a much smoother transition this spring.
Of course, that doesn't mean quarterback won't be a concern. Or any of a number of other areas that we address below.
1. What is going to happen with the interior offensive line?
Michigan returns their two starting tackles from last season, including the All-Big Ten Taylor Lewan. However, they will need to find three new starters on the interior. Brady Hoke brought in four offensive linemen in the 2012 recruiting class, and it looks like at least three of them will be battling for the two guard spots. Ben Braden, Kyle Kalis and Blake Bars are all in the mix. Given the amount of offensive line talent that has rolled into Ann Arbor of late, they should be able to find two good starting guards and a decent backup. The real concern could be at center, where Jack Miller, Graham Glasgow and Joe Burzynski will all vie to win the job. Glasgow and Burzynski are both walk-ons, while Miller is a redshirt sophomore with six career games under his belt. There are already two freshmen linemen enrolled, and four more will come to town this summer, most of them guards.
2. Can the running backs stake their claims?
Starting tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint is being held out of Michigan's contact drills following his broken leg late in the season last year. Many are expecting incoming freshmen Derrick Green or Deveon Smith to get a large portion of the carries once they arrive, but they're not here yet. Without either of the freshmen around, or Toussaint, it's now or never for the likes of Drake Johnson, Thomas Rawls, Dennis Norfleet and Justice Hayes. The four of them combined for 77 carries last season, with Rawls getting 57 of those. Norfleet only carried the ball twice last season and Johnson redshirted. Johnson impressed during bowl practices, and there are some hopes for him, but how much of those hopes are based on the fact that there is very little hope for anybody else?
3. Will somebody emerge to help Jeremy Gallon at receiver?
Perhaps the biggest criticism of Brady Hoke as Michigan's head coach to this point is that he has yet to sign a dynamic (or even productive) receiver. In fact, in two seasons as head coach (and two recruiting classes), he has yet to sign a receiver who has ever caught a pass. To be fair, he has only signed two receivers, though I'm not sure that's much of a defense. The two players that he signed last season -- Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson -- need to show something this spring. Darboh played in four games at receiver last year, and Chesson redshirted. The time is now for both of these players, as Hoke is quickly running out of Rich Rodriguez's wide receivers.
4. Who replaces Jordan Kovacs?
I can give you some names of players battling for this spot, but they have all yet to do anything on defense and you wouldn't know who they were anyway. There are actually a handful of options to fill Kovacs' strong safety position, but will any of them bring the knack for the football that Kovacs showed during his career? They will obviously find a strong safety, because they have to field a defense. The real question is if they can find a playmaker, and not just a body.
5. Can somebody rush the passer other than Jake Ryan?
Michigan's defensive line piled up a whopping 12 sacks in 13 games last season. That was three more than Ohio State's John Simon had in 11 games. Now they lose Craig Roh, who led the defensive linemen with 4.0 sacks. Rising junior Frank Clark would seem to be the guy who will give offensive tackles the most fits this season, but he is still an inconsistent and incomplete defensive player. Mario Ojemudia had a few moments last season as a true freshman, but they were very few. Those two are both suited for the weak side. I don't see much impact coming from the other side. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman Chris Wormley, though. He went down with an ACL injury in fall camp last season and is full go for the spring. He would be a huge help to to a large area of concern.
Bonus: Can Devin Gardner pick up where he left off?
Let's face it, if Devin Gardner plays like he did last season, he will land a spot on one of the All-Big Ten teams. With an entire set of bowl practices, followed by spring practices, not only should Gardner pick up where he left off, but he should be even better.
Bonus: Will somebody other than Jake Ryan make plays on defense?
It doesn't take all that long for defensive playmakers to make themselves known during practice, so the coaches shouldn't have to look too hard. They will probably be looking to see if Frank Clark is ready to become a complete defensive end, or if Jibreel Black can finally put it all together on the defensive line, or if James Ross is ready to play every snap at linebacker.
Bonus: Will this team be able to run the ball?
Granted, it's just spring football, so running the ball isn't always that easy to do. However, it's not like Michigan's front seven is exactly tested. The running game is going to be a bit different without Denard Robinson around. How much will that affect things now that the defense no longer has to worry first about the quarterback in the running game?
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