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Michigan Football: 5 Unsung Heroes Who Will Be Needed Down the Stretch

Joel GreerCorrespondent IJune 23, 2016

Michigan Football: 5 Unsung Heroes Who Will Be Needed Down the Stretch

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    Good or bad, we all know the Michigan Wolverines players who get the press clippings after the games. On offense, Denard Robinson, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Taylor Lewan, Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon have all become household names. 

    Defensively, everyone knows Jordan Kovacs, Craig Roh, Jake Ryan, Kenny Demens and even Big Will Campbell.

    But there's also a group of players who are beginning to make significant contributions. And part of the fun is watching these youngsters or former benchwarmers excel. 

    In the following weeks, Michigan will be making a legitimate run toward the Legends Division crown. Let's look at how some of these Wolverines will help tell the story: 

No. 6, Raymon Taylor, CB, Sophomore

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    Raymon Taylor, a sophomore from Highland Park, became a starting cornerback when Blake Countess was lost for the season against Alabama and Courtney Avery was moved to nickle. 

    Rated as a 4-star athlete by Rivals.com, Taylor played both ways in high school, grabbing five interceptions and scoring 14 touchdowns during his senior season.

    Taylor already shares the Michigan team lead of two interceptions with safety Thomas Gordon. Add a fumble recovery to his 16 tackles, and Taylor already has quite a resume. His 63-yard pick-six against Purdue gave the Wolverines a nearly insurmountable 21-0 lead. 

    One can only think about 2013 when Taylor teams up with Countess to give Michigan quite a one-two punch at cornerback. 

No. 26, Dennis Norfleet, KR/RB, Freshman

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    It's just a matter of time before Dennis Norfleet returns a kickoff for a touchdown. Best thus far for the freshman has been a 38-yard return against Purdue.

    He's already in the Michigan record book. His eight kickoff returns in the Alabama loss placed him sixth on the all-time list. What's even more remarkable is that the 161-pounder was still able to talk about it after the game. 

    Kidding aside, Norfleet could join a long list of great Michigan kick returners: Steve Breaston, Anthony Carter, Desmond Howard and most recently Darryl Stonum. 

    But Norfleet, who was a last-minute recruit from Detroit M.L.King, has other plans. As a high school senior, Norfleet rushed for 2,023 yards. For Michigan, he's already returned one punt for 12 yards and rushed once for 14.

    Norfleet, who decommitted from Cincinnati to join the Wolverines, was an Associated Press  first-team All-Stater in both 2010 and 2011.

No. 19, Devin Funchess, TE, Freshman

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    With the graduation of Kevin Koger and the knee injury to Brandon Moore, Devin Funchess has found a spot in Michigan's starting lineup.

    A true freshman from Metro Detroit powerhouse Farmington Harrison, Funchess has made the most of his opportunity, catching nine passes including two for touchdowns.

    For his play in the 31-25 victory over Air Force, Funchess was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week. He caught four passes for 106 yards, one being a 30-yard scoring strike from Denard Robinson.

    At 6'5, 229 lbs, Funchess is strong enough to play tight end but quick enough to play in the slot or even at wide receiver. He's also the high school teammate of fellow freshman Mario Ojemudia, who's making a name for himself at defensive end.  

No. 57, Elliott Mealer, C, Redshirt Senior

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    Who knew the problems David Molk would cause when he graduated this spring. The All-American center had been a fixture at the position so long it seemed like quite a challenge to find his replacement.

    First it appeared like redshirt freshman Jack Miller would win the job this spring. But no, head coach Brady Hoke thought Ricky Barnum would end up at center because of his superior athleticism.

    Then, out of the middle of nowhere, career backup Elliott Mealer dropped into the picture during fall camp. 

    It hasn't been easy, but Mealer has no trouble with his long snaps when Robinson operates from the shotgun.

    While pass protection has been pretty good at times, most of the line can be blamed for the failure to carve out lanes for the running backs (other than Robinson). 

    A tight end in high school, Mealer has played primarily on special teams throughout his career.

    Unfortunately for Hoke, Michigan must repeat the process again next spring. 

No. 76, Quinton Washington, NT, Redshirt Junior

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    With the loss of Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and Will Heininger from last season's defensive line, DC Greg Mattison would have to rebuild the defensive line. 

    Craig Roh was the only holdover at one defensive end, while Frank Clark was going to parlay a fine Sugar Bowl performance into a starting slot at the other end.

    The question mark centered around the two interior line positions. The candidates were senior Big Will Campbell, redshirt freshman Richard Ash, true freshman Ondre Pipkins, junior Jibreel Black and redshirt junior Quinton Washington.

    Campbell, who has struggled throughout his Michigan career, appears to have found a home at the tackle position, while Washington now mans the nose. 

    Originally rated a 4-star offensive line recruit by Rivals.com, the 6'4", 300-lb Washington came to Michigan along with Campbell as part of the 2009 class.

    Washington has been credited with 13 tackles, including one for loss.

    Both Washington and Campbell need to improve their pass-rushing skills. Then the pair will not only look like bookend tackles, they will actually play like them. 

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