Michigan Football: Top Spring Practice Storylines to Watch
The 2013 college football season will tell a lot about where this Michigan Wolverines program is heading. We have seen the ups and the downs with head coach Brady Hoke in his first two years, so folks should be open to the idea of anything taking place.
Michigan will be experiencing a change in the offense's style, a new quarterback and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will have a chance for an encore. The offensive line is a mystery—there is an injury to a star player and there are more than enough young guys that could make an immediate impact with back-to-back stellar recruiting classes.
The Wolverines are moving in the right direction and there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the 2013 season.
With spring practice soon to kickoff, here are a few of the storylines that should intrigue you the most.
How the Offense Will Look with Devin Gardner at QB
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Michigan has wanted to run a pro-style offense the last couple of seasons, but Denard Robinson made that difficult with his dual-threat abilities and inaccurate ways. Now with 'Shoelace' out of the question and Devin Gardner taking over the team, the offense is likely going to take on a new identity and become a little more traditional.
Gardner is an athletic quarterback and can hurt you with his legs at times, but he also brings a little more consistency to the passing game. This allows Michigan to become more balanced on the offensive side of the ball and throw away a lot of the spread formations that were used last season.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges told Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press what the plan is going to be moving forward:
To a degree. We're transforming our offense. We're not completely changing our offense. You saw a closer version of it toward the end of the season. But we're going to stay up with the times. There's some things people are doing with mobile quarterbacks that we're going to keep, we're not going to get rid of. But to say we're going to be an 80% spread team like we were early last year, a lot of that's going to go by the wayside. But we're not going to completely eliminate that part of our offense as long as we have a kid under center who's a threat.
Seeing the new look is going to be the talk of the town in Ann Arbor.
Revamped Offensive Line
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Michigan only has two returning starters along the offensive line, meaning that there will be three new faces thrown into the starting unit. We can sit here and talk about the pro-style offense all day long, but if there is no protection, it isn't going to amount to much offensive success.
Head coach Brady Hoke and his coaching staff have done a tremendous job of adding depth on the recruiting trail and actually had a lot of the top recruits redshirt last season. The unit is also slightly ahead of the game with left tackle Taylor Lewan announcing that he will be returning for his senior year, which is huge considering he would have been a first-round pick in this year’s NFL draft.
There are going to be a lot of fresh guys entering the lineup along the offensive line, many of whom Hoke brought in last year. Players like Kyle Kalis, Blake Bars and Erik Magnuson will all be fighting for playing time and will be expected to contribute at a high level whether in a starting or backup role this upcoming season.
There is a lot to like with the upside of the offensive line, but there are a lot of questions at the same time. This isn’t something that is built overnight and it’s important guys begin to jell quickly.
Health of Fitzgerald Toussaint
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Michigan had questions at the running back position because nobody knew when Fitzgerald Toussaint was going to be fully recovered from a broken leg he suffered late in the year. The concerns were so great that 2013 recruit Derrick Green was being thrown into the conversation as becoming the possible starter.
Not so fast, my friends.
According to Angelique S. Chengelis of the Detroit News, Toussaint says he will be participating during spring practice.
"May not be full contact, (but) I will have a helmet on," he said. "I will be running gassers with those guys."
The Wolverines certainly don't need Toussaint to participate in full contact right now. The last thing they need is a longer setback that puts his participation in the season opener in jeopardy. However, just hearing that he will be suiting up and has made a speedy recovery is enough for Michigan fans.
The running back position just got a lot more interesting and keeping an eye on the former 1,000-yard rusher’s progress will be worth the look.
Defensive Line and Consistent Pressure
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If there is one area of concern with the defensive side of the ball, it would be the defensive line. Michigan struggled mightily last season to produce pressure on opposing quarterbacks and the 22 sacks were tied with Purdue for eighth in the Big Ten.
Ondre Pipkins spent all of his true-freshman season as a backup and will be expected to take that next step as a possible starting nose tackle. Jibreel Black had his best season in a Michigan uniform last year, but it is fair to start expecting more as he enters his senior season and is one of the most experienced defensive players on the roster.
One of the defensive end spots remains up for grabs with Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark being the two front-runners to earn increased reps from last season. There is also a 2013 recruit in Taco Charlton, who is a pass-rush specialist and should help add a boost to the front line.
The Wolverines defense was wonderful last season as a unit, but if it is ever going to become elite status, the pressure up front must improve.
Michigan has a total of six players from the 2013 recruiting class that decided to enroll early to get a leg up on all of the competition. None of these players are guaranteed immediate playing time, but there are a few that stand out and will have a chance to position themselves for early success.
With the offensive line already mentioned as a unit that could improve, Kyle Bosch and Logan Tuley-Tillman are two massive players that could turn heads and slide up the depth chart. Safety Dymonte Thomas is arguably the highest-rated recruit from the entire Michigan class and will add depth to an already solid secondary.
Even tight end Jake Butt could earn reps on the offensive side of the ball and prove to be another weapon to add to the Wolverines arsenal.
Michigan easily had one of the best recruiting classes of the 2013 process and some of the talent will be seen firsthand in spring practice. Don't be surprised if a few of those guys end up cracking the two-deep depth chart and see playing time as true-freshmen.