Devin Gardner (12) will lead the 2013 Wolverines
With outstanding recruiting classes in both 2012 and now 2013, the Michigan football team is finally taking on the personality of head coach Brady Hoke.
Recent recruits will compete for several positions when spring practice gets underway in mid-March.
Hoke will unveil his power-I, ball-control offense with quarterback Devin Gardner leading the way. A true freshman may start at running back, while underclassmen will fill slots in the receiver corps and along the offensive line.
On defense, Michigan has shown considerable improvement since Hoke arrived in January, 2011. But with youth at both cornerback and along the defensive front, the 2013 defense will be far from a veteran group.
Michigan has employed a 4-3 base the last two seasons, occasionally switching to the 3-4 which defensive coordinator Greg Mattison featured when he was with the NFL Baltimore Ravens.
Just imagine what surprises Mattison might cook up during spring practice.
Regardless of the offensive and defensive schemes, Michigan will still be fighting for a Big Ten championship with a bunch of youngsters.
Let's take a look at how Michigan's depth chart will appear when spring practice begins:
Jibreel Black (55)
Starter: Ondre Pipkins
Backups: Maurice Hurst
(3-tec) Defensive Tackle
Starter: Quinton Washington
Backups: Willie Henry, Henry Poggi
Strong-side Defensive End
Starter: Jibreel Black
Backups: Keith Heitzman, Chris Wormley, Matt Godin
Weak-side Defensive End
Starter: Brennen Beyer
Backups: Frank Clark, Mario Ojemudia, Tom Strobel, Taco Charlton*
Coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison have yet to get decent production from the defensive front. Any pressure on the quarterback comes from blitzes by either linebackers or safeties, thus leaving the secondary vulnerable to the deep pass (see Outback Bowl).
The revamped defensive line should feature Ondre "Peewee" Pipkins (6'3", 330 lbs) at the nose with Quinton Washington moving over to tackle. Incoming freshman Maurice Hurst (6'2", 300 lbs) and redshirt freshman Willie Henry (6'2", 314 lbs) both have the quickness and size to compete.
Jibreel Black, who played tackle last season at an undersized 279 pounds, will get reps this spring at strong-side end due to the graduation of Craig Roh.
Five candidates will battle for the weak-side end position since neither Brennen Beyer, Frank Clark or Mario Ojemudia distinguished themselves. Look for redshirt freshman Tom Strobel and early enrollee Taco Charlton to make things interesting.
Desmond Morgan (48), Cam Gordon (4)
Blake Countess (18)
Starter: Blake Countess
Backups: Terry Richardson, Ross Douglas*, Channing Stribling, Reon Dawson
Starter: Ramon Taylor
Backups: Delonte Hollowell, Dennis Norfleet, Jourdan Lewis, Delano Hill
Starter: Courtney Avery
South Carolina's 341-yard, four-touchdown passing performance in the Outback Bowl illustrated Michigan's lack of depth in the secondary. The Wolverines simply couldn't survive the loss of cornerbacks Blake Countess (out since the Alabama opener) and J.T. Floyd (suspended for the final game).
Although Floyd graduates, Countess will return next season alongside Ramon Taylor.
Countess proved to be more than adequate during his freshman season in 2011, while Taylor was given quite an education by South Carolina's Ace Sanders in the Outback Bowl.
Granted, some of the blame goes to poor safety coverage, while you can also look to faulty quarterback pressure.
The injury to Countess and the suspension of Floyd helped the depth situation for next season. Courtney Avery, who normally plays in only nickel situations, was forced to start at cornerback against the Gamecocks.
Delonte Hollowell and Terry Richardson, a pair of prep teammates at Detroit Cass Tech, secured some playing time and should be in next season's rotation. Early enrollee Ross Douglas will get a hard look at spring practice.
Kick returner and running back Dennis Norfleet switched to cornerback during the Outback Bowl practices, but at 5'7" has limitations.
With taller receivers becoming the norm, Michigan has reacted by bringing in a trio of taller recruits. Channing Stribling (6'2"), Reon Dawson (6'2") and Delano Hill (6'1") will get plenty of attention next fall.
Thomas Gordon (30)
Starter: Jarrod Wilson
Backups: Dymonte Thomas*, Marvin Robinson, Allen Gant
Starter: Thomas Gordon
Backups: Josh Furman, Jeremy Clark
Probably the best chance for a true freshman to start on defense will be at safety.
Dymonte Thomas, the nation's No. 4-rated safety, will definitely get a shot at substantial playing time. Thomas, who made 56 tackles as a prep senior and runs the 40 in 4.53, was a solid contributor at the recent U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Since he's an early enrollee, Thomas will be at spring practice to compete with 2012 backup Jarrod Wilson for the strong safety spot vacated by Jordan Kovacs.
Thomas Gordon, who had a breakout season with 81 tackles and two interceptions, will keep the free safety spot, with reserves Josh Furman and Jeremy Clark adding speed to the position.
Starter: Taylor Lewan
Backups: Erik Gunderson, Logan Tuley-Tillman*, Kristian Mateus
Starter: Joey Burzynski
Backups: Kyle Kalis, Blake Bars
Starter: Jack Miller
Backups: Graham Glasgow, Patrick Kugler
Starter: Chris Bryant
Backups: Chris Fox, Kyle Bosch
Starter: Mike Schofield
Backups: Eric Magnuson, David Dawson, Ben Braden, Dan Samuelson
Michigan fans breathed a sigh of relief when offensive tackle Taylor Lewan decided to return for his redshirt senior season.
Lewan's decision means that Michigan will have three inexperienced starters on the offensive line—if that's not enough.
With left guard Ricky Barnum, center Elliott Mealer and right guard Patrick Omameh graduating, one wonders how that run-oriented power-I offense will get off the ground.
Fortunately, Michigan did a superb job of recruiting offensive linemen during the last two seasons. Hoke signed five linemen to the 2012 class and added six more to the current one.
The first of this group to get playing time will either be Kyle Kalis or Eric Magnuson, both of whom entered with last year's group.
Kalis, who de-committed from Ohio State to join the Wolverines, has a good shot of winning the competition at left guard. A Scout.com 5-star recruit, Kalis will battle Joey Burzynski, who played in 11 games over the past two seasons.
Magnuson, a Scout.com 4-star recruit from San Diego, could challenge redshirt senior Michael Schofield for the starting job at right tackle.
Redshirt sophomore Jack Miller is penciled into the center slot, but incoming freshman Patrick Kugler could compete if he recovers from an off-season shoulder surgery.
Chris Bryant, a 6'4", 318-pound redshirt sophomore who is recovering from a fractured tibia, will inherit the right guard slot.
Tight End Devin Funchess (19)
Starter: Drew Dileo
Backups: Jeremy Jackson, Jehu Chesson, Da'Mario Jones
Starter: Jeremy Gallon
Backups: Amara Darboh, Joe Reynolds, Jaron Dukes, Csont'e York
Starter: Devin Funchess
Backups: A.J. Williams, Jake Butt, Khalid Hill
If Michigan goes to a three-wide set, the receivers could be 5'10" (Jeremy Gallon), 5'8" (Drew Dileo) and 5'7" (Dennis Norfleet).
That's hardly what Michigan has in mind for the future.
Already, Michigan's tight ends are 6'5" (Devin Funchess) and 6'6" (A.J. Williams), and there are three wide receivers on hand at least 6'2".
Incoming freshmen Da'Mario Jones (6'2"), Csont'e York (6'2") and Jaron Dukes (6'4") will at least resemble some of Michigan's all-time greats, if not play like them. Braylon Edwards and Adrian Arrington were 6'3", and David Terrell was 6'2".
Regardless of their size, Michigan's receivers will be in the forefront now that the Wolverines are running the pro-style offense.
As was evident in the final few games of 2012, you'll see plenty of drop-back and play-action passing, along with more screens and rollouts. The tight ends and running backs will play a larger role in the passing game.
Jeremy Gallon came into his own last season with 40 catches and should be the go-to receiver in 2013. Drew Dileo, who is the perfect example of a possession receiver, should win the other wide receiver position.
The Wolverines will be strongest at tight end as true freshman Devin Funchess (6'5", 229 lbs) emerged as a formidable target. Versatile enough to play h-back, the slot or even wide receiver, Funchess was able to turn five of his 14 receptions into touchdowns.
Fitz Toussaint (28)
Starter: Fitz Toussaint
Backups: DeVeon Smith, Justice Hayes, Thomas Rawls, Drake Johnson, Dennis Norfleet
Starter: Joe Kerridge
Backups: Wyatt Shallman, Sione Houma
Michigan fans have 4 p.m., January 26th securely marked on their calendar.
There couldn't be a better moment to land a running back with Green's ability. A legitimate power back at 6'0", 215 lbs, he could conceivably start for Michigan as a freshman.
With Fitzgerald Toussaint a question mark due to his late-season leg injury, and Thomas Rawls being left out of the Outback Bowl, Green could certainly start in the Wolverines' new power-I attack.
Even if Green does choose Michigan, he'll get a serious battle from incoming freshman DeVeon Smith, a 5'11", 210-pound power runner from Warren (Ohio) Howland HS.
Let's not forget Ann Arbor's Drake Johnson, Grand Blanc's Justice Hayes and Detroit's Dennis Norfleet, three kids who can fly.
At fullback, Joe Kerridge should keep his starting role but watch out for incoming freshman Wyatt Shallman from Detroit Catholic Central. At 6’3”, 245 lbs, Shallman could play either fullback or tailback. Because of a hamstring injury, he spent most of last season at defensive end.
Quarterback Devin Gardner (12)
Starter: Devin Gardner
Backups: Brian Cleary, Russell Bellomy, Shane Morris
After Denard Robinson injured his throwing arm, quarterback-turned-receiver Devin Gardner received what amounted to an audition at quarterback.
Gardner, who was recruited as a 5-star quarterback from Inkster, passed with flying colors.
The 6'4", 203-pounder led Michigan to three victories in four games, completing 57 of 90 passes for eight touchdowns and four interceptions.
Gardner cemented his status as 2013’s starter during the New Year’s Day loss to South Carolina, where he completed 18 of 36 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns.
He is also awaiting word from the Big Ten on whether he’ll get a medical redshirt for the 2010 season, since he played only three games. Head coach Brady Hoke expects the request to go through, so Gardner could be Michigan’s starting signal caller through 2014.