While the Wolverines come into 2012 with high expectations and are ranked eighth in both the AP and USA Today preseason polls, all is not perfect in Ann Arbor.
Michigan lost three important pieces of its defensive line after last season: tackles Will Heininger and Mike Martin, along with strong-side end Ryan Van Bergen. With the exception of senior Craig Roh, a four-year starter who slides from the weak-side to replace Van Bergen, the line lacks experience.
Senior Will Campbell moves into Martin's spot, and while he has prototypical size at 6'5" and has dropped considerable weight to get to 308 pounds, his Wolverine career has been underwhelming, to say the least.
A 5-star recruit out of Detroit's Cass Tech in 2009, Campbell has never come close to living up to the expectations people had for him, and whether he can handle the grind of playing every down—especially with his significant weight loss—remains to be seen.
Jibreel Black, a 6'2" speed rusher off of the end his first two seasons in Ann Arbor, has bulked up to 279 pounds as he moves inside. While his speed will be an asset, his inexperience at the position and need to improve both his footwork and hands leaves something to be desired.
Brennen Beyer, a 6'2", 252-pound outside linebacker who spent his freshman season as a reserve, slides into the weak-side defensive end spot to replace Roh. The sophomore has put in the work to become a disruptive force from the edge, but his lack of experience and the fact that he's undersized make him vulnerable to being overpowered by bigger offensive lineman in the Big Ten.
The wildcard in all of this is 5-star recruit Ondre Pipkins, a massive 6'3", 340-pound stud who is as impressive as he is big. Pipkins suffered a neck injury (h/t AnnArbor.com) at practice this past Friday and while he was back on the sidelines later in the day, the injury is certainly troubling.
Pipkins is expected to back up Campbell, and with his strength and size, it wouldn't be surprising to see him supplant the senior as the starter at some point this season—assuming he's healthy.
Look for Alabama to exploit the group's collective inexperience when the two teams open the season September 1, signalling the start of another long season in Ann Arbor.