Michigan Football: Ranking the 4 Most Important Position Battles for 2013
Every college football team in the Football Bowl Subdivision will have to replace numerous departing seniors leading up to next season, and the Michigan Wolverines are no exception.
The Maize and Blue are losing 10 starters this offseason, and although some of their replacements will seamlessly fill the void left behind, there are other positions that will have several players battling for the top spot on the depth chart.
Four personnel groups in particular come to mind. Click ahead to find out which positions will be competing the hardest for a starting job and where they rank in terms of importance for the Wolverines to have a successful 2013 campaign!
4. Wide Receiver
One of the most pleasant surprises during the closing stretch of the 2012 season was the emergence of rising senior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon in the passing game, but heading into 2013 the Michigan Wolverines still need a dynamic playmaker that commands extra attention from opposing defenses.
Gallon finished the year with team highs in receiving yards (829), receptions (49) and tallied four touchdowns.
However, while Gallon is an established receiver for the Wolverines, he is not going to win jump-ball battles in the downfield passing game like former Michigan greats like Braylon Edwards, Marquise Walker and David Terrell were repeatedly able to do.
For this reason, one of the most important position battles will be for the vacant wide receiver spot left behind by departing fifth-year senior Roy Roundtree.
The favorite to win the starting role is rising sophomore Amara Darboh, who was a 4-star prospect coming out of high school and played primarily on special teams for the Wolverines last season.
Darboh has generated some major buzz on multiple occasions by making some dazzling receptions in practice, but the 6'2", 220-pounder struggled to consistently string together outstanding performances.
Two other receivers in the hunt to become a starter for the Maize and Blue in 2013 are fifth-year senior Joe Reynolds and redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson.
Reynolds had just three receptions for 22 yards last year, while Chesson spent his first season in Ann Arbor redshirting.
Expect Darboh to be atop the depth chart come Aug. 31, but Chesson will make a strong push for playing time next season as well.
3. Defensive Line
There are two spots up for grabs along the defensive line heading into the offseason, and unless one of the Michigan Wolverines' rush ends develop some consistency during the spring there could be a third position with a new starter when the 2013 season kicks off.
The Wolverines have not had an elite pass-rusher since Brandon Graham played his final game in a Michigan uniform at the end of the 2009 campaign, and finished No. 78 in the nation last season with 1.69 sacks per game.
Fifth-year senior Quinton Washington will be Michigan's starting nose tackle for a second straight season, while Jibreel Black is expected to slide over to defensive tackle for his final season in Ann Arbor.
Black will have some competition in the form of redshirt freshman Willie Henry, though. Henry is one of the hardest workers Michigan has on its roster and only needs to make some improvements against the run in order to be a significant contributor next season.
The other two spots are where this position battle will get interesting. Rising sophomore Mario Ojemudia is one of Michigan's fastest defensive linemen and showed great potential in nine games last year. The 6'3", 231-pounder racked up 11 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack in limited action during the 2012 season.
Ojemudia will battle with junior defensive end Frank Clark for a spot in the starting rotation, while junior Brennen Beyer and a host of others, including redshirt freshman Chris Wormley, jostle to fill the void left behind by departing senior Craig Roh.
The only player who is assured a starting spot at this point is Washington, and whomever head coach Brady Hoke decides to start at the other spots along the defensive line needs to answer the call and create a pass-rush opponents will dread going up against.
Expect to see a lot from Ojemudia, Clark, Wormley and Beyer next season, but Michigan's top pass-rushers may be too young and inexperienced for the Wolverines to dominate the trenches on defense until 2014.
2. Running Back
One of the most pressing issues the Michigan Wolverines need to clear up in 2013 is getting production out of their running backs, but unfortunately for the Maize and Blue there are not any proven candidates at the moment.
Outgoing dual-threat quarterback turned utility man Denard Robinson has been Michigan's top rusher for the past three seasons, while Fitzgerald Toussaint had an underwhelming 2012 campaign after amassing over 1,000 yards in 2011.
After Toussaint's early-season struggles, rising junior Thomas Rawls the fan favorite to take over the starting job. Rawls did not fare much better than Toussaint did behind an offensive line that struggled to open up holes for any of Michigan's backs to run through.
This is a position that needs to be a completely open competition up until someone seizes the starting role either this spring, or in the fall. None of Michigan's returning backs did enough last season to be considered the favorite to sit atop the depth chart right now.
Redshirt sophomore Justice Hayes will be in the conversation with Rawls and Toussaint, while redshirt freshman Drake Johnson is a dark-horse candidate to emerge as the starter.
The two wild cards will be incoming freshmen Deveon Smith and 5-star prospect Derrick Green, if he commits to Michigan on Jan. 26 as most expect him to.
Michigan's running back situation can't get much worse than it did in 2012, so any sign of stability at the position will be a victory next season for the Wolverines.
Despite the great strides starting quarterback Devin Gardner made in the final five games of the season, the rising senior will struggle mightily if Michigan cannot establish a balanced offense.
1. Offensive Line
There is no position group more concerning than the offensive line heading as the Michigan Wolverines begin their preparations for the 2013 campaign.
As much as having a consistent performer at running back is important, most of Michigan's problems in the run game last season stemmed from its struggles along the offensive line, which struggled to replace All-American center David Molk and right tackle Mark Huyge.
The Wolverines did get a big boost last week when All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan announced he will be returning for a fifth season, but Michigan will still need to replace its starting guards and center.
Redshirt freshman and former 5-star prospect Kyle Kalis is the top candidate to fill the vacant left guard spots, while several other underclassmen will be in a drawn out battle for a place in the starting lineup.
Although redshirt sophomore Jack Miller appears to be the leader to take over at center, redshirt freshman Blake Bars has snapped for the Wolverines in practice before and could shift over from guard if he is unable to beat out the other linemen vying to become a starter.
Speaking of right guards, redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant, fourth-year junior Joey Burzynski and Bars will all be competing against one another for the final opening.
Bryant seems to have the edge, but the fractured his tibia last August so there are understandably some concerns about durability.
Burzynski and Bars were both backups last season and both will need to make some strides during the offseason if they hope to be one of the five starters for the 2013 season.
The lone wild card in the battle for spots along the offensive line is redshirt freshman Ben Braden, who sat behind Michael Schofield at right tackle last season. There is a possibility Braden could shift to guard if all of the other competitors fail to impress the coaches.
Overall, Michigan's offensive line will have much more upside than it has since the late '90s, though it may take a bit of time for the group to come together and develop consistency.