Michigan Football: Spring Practice Position Battles Tracker

Randy ChambersAnalyst IMarch 11, 2013

Michigan Football: Spring Practice Position Battles Tracker

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    The Michigan Wolverines enter the 2013 season with a lot of reasons to feel confident. Although only returning 12 starters from last season, there are plenty of strengths surrounding Brady Hoke's club, as he enters his third season with the team.

    But when you add injuries to the equation and young players who will be forced to step up immediately, Michigan does have a lot of work to do if it would like to compete for a Big Ten title.

    Spring ball will soon kick off in Ann Arbor, as the Wolverines will soon begin to prepare for the spring game that takes place on April 13 at 12:30 p.m. ET.

    This upcoming season will tell us a lot about which direction this program is heading and it always starts with the performances in spring ball.

    Let's take a look at everything you need to know about the 2013 Michigan Wolverines' spring practices.

    Note: This slideshow will be updated with the latest news, position battles, injuries and more.

Latest News

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    Update: April 15

    Michigan held it's spring game last weekend and Kyle Meinke of Mlive jotted down a rough depth chart to give fans an idea of what things are looking like right now.

    As for the game itself, quarterback Devin Gardner told Meinke his thoughts of the offense that was unleashed.

    "It was very vanilla, very basic," Gardner said. "There wasn't really much."

    There was also some good news that was let out of the bag by head coach Brady Hoke. According to Meinke, linebacker Jake Ryan could make his way back from his ACL injury at some point during the season.

    "I'm not a doctor, but possibly middle of October," coach Brady Hoke said after Saturday's game at Michigan Stadium. "Some people react differently."

    Update: April 12

    As the offense begins to switch over to a pro-set, the offensive line has some adjusting to do. Never mind that three starters must be replaced as well. According to Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, offensive lineman Taylor Lewan says things are better than you would expect at this point.

    "This spring we've run a lot more under center stuff," offensive lineman Taylor Lewan said Wednesday during a Big Ten teleconference. "We're still going to have some spread scheme here and there because Devin's got wheels, too. He can run, and he's very elusive.
    "But we're doing what these coaches want to do. They want to run a pro-style offense, they want to do all of those things, and I feel like coach (Al) Borges is much more comfortable running this offense than what he's been running for (two) years. It's a lot more under center, a lot more power scheme."

    Update: March 28

    Already searching for a replacement for linebacker Jake Ryan, Michigan has decided to move Brennen Beyer from defensive end to outside linebacker, according to Adam Rittenberg of ESPN. Although the favorite to replace Ryan remains Cam Gordon, who defensive coordinator Greg Mattison says looks a little different this year.

    Right now for the first time, and it was starting to happen last year, he's really getting confidence and he can kind of look in the mirror and say, 'I am an outside linebacker,. Mattison told reporters Tuesday in Ann Arbor. It's not, 'I wonder if I can do this.' He knows he can do it, now he has to get better and better at it.

    Update: March 20

    Brett McMurphy of ESPN reported that linebacker Jake Ryan will miss the remainder of the spring with a torn ACL.

    Michigan LB Jake Ryan, Wolverines' leading tackler last year, out indefinitely w/torn ACL, suffered Tuesday

    — Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) March 20, 2013

    Fitzgerald Toussaint has stuck to his word and is in pads during spring practice. According to Nick Baumgardner of Mlive, the star running back participated in practice decked out in pads and all, but still has yet to participate in contact drills.

    "He's been running around," Hoke said. "He's doing some individual stuff, Fred, you know, has different drills and those kind of things.

    "He's doing a lot of that stuff, we're just not going to be putting him out there in live action."

    Toussaint is still recovering from an injury he suffered last year. He may not be completely healthy at the moment, but this is a great sign for Wolverines fans that he is on track to being ready for the season opener.

    Update: March 19

    When you have as much talent at a certain position the way Michigan has at linebacker, it is only right to try different things. That is why the Wolverines coaching staff is teaching some of the top linebackers to play both inside and outside, allowing guys such as Desmond Morgan and James Ross to play on the field at the same time.

    Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press reported that the rotation of players will give Michigan options and help create a better overall defense.

    I think that position, probably if you had four that you could rotate through, that were all quality, that would be great. Hoke said. We rotated a ton at San Diego State. We rotated every four plays. We're getting a little bit more to where we may be able to do that more. The biggest difference here is we're still not at the point where (there is) the quality that you want or don't know yet because there's so many young guys who are going to be a big part of it, that are they ready or not.

    Update: March 18

    While spring practice is mostly all about the players, Michigan went ahead and made a smart move by giving defensive coordinator Greg Mattison a contract extension. Reported by Kyle Meinke of Mlive, the contract is good for three years, which will now keep the respected assistant coach around until 2016.

    Head coach Brady Hoke recently gave a press conference on the progress that is being made, which you can see here. (H/t 247Sports)

    Also, Steve Lorenz of 247Sports is seeing a wonderful trend going around in Ann Arbor. Players have spent much of the offseason getting in great shape. Guys that may have been a little small are now gaining weight, while the bigger guys have cut back and lost a few pounds.

    Update: March 15

    If you are one that just assumes a player is going to be starting at a certain position, you should seriously think again. It would be surprising if somebody else is suiting up at quarterback besides Devin Gardner this season, but according to Kyle Meinke of Mlive, head coach Brady Hoke says you shouldn't rule it out.

    "We’re excited about him. Devin and him, they’ll compete (in the spring). Don’t assume that this is ‘here you go.’ They have to compete.”

    Hoke then went on to speak highly of Russell Bellomy, as well as 2013 recruit Shane Morris, who will enroll later in the fall. It would be a shocker if anybody is the starter besides Gardner at this point, but apparently quarterback is another position to pay close attention to during the offseason.

    Update: March 13

    It is no secret that the offensive line is the biggest area of concern for the Wolverines as we enter spring practice. With three new guys entering the rotation as a starter, this unit up front is going to be key to the success, especially with the transition to a pro-style offense.

    Although we are very early in the process, Kyle Meinke of Mlive Media Group reports what the group may look like early on:

    Hoke tells @espn_bigten that Ben Braden will compete at left guard with Blake Bars and Joey Burzynski. Kyle Kalis at right guard with Bosch

    — Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) March 13, 2013

    As for Chris Bryant? Well...

    Interesting that Hoke names 9 players for the offensive line positions, and none of them is Chris Bryant. Could mean something, maybe not.

    — Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) March 13, 2013

    Head coach Brady Hoke also sat down with Brian Bennett of ESPN and provided a quality interview, which includes what he is paying attention to this spring, what the defense will look like and how the leadership will be replaced.

    Update: March 11

    When most teams lose a starting quarterback that has been around for a while, it is usually a time to panic. But with Devin Gardner replacing Denard Robinson, it is actually the complete opposite, as folks in Ann Arbor couldn't be happier with the possibilities the senior brings to the table.

    As for Gardner, he has not only taken on a new role as the starting quarterback but is emerging as one of the leaders of the team, according to Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press.

    "I've already approached it in a great way," he said in a video on mgoblue.com "I've led, and I've done things I'm not ordinarily accustomed to doing. I feel I've stepped outside myself and been the leader I should be. ... The winter was great. We finished it with a great lift last Friday, and I'm looking forward to spring ball."

    Gardner replaced Robinson late last season as the starting quarterback and will enter spring with a firm grip on the starting spot.

Key Offensive Battles to Watch

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    Running Back

    The running back position is interesting for Michigan heading into the spring. A 2013 recruit in Derrick Green, who could eventually become the starter for the Wolverines, isn't going to be on the field until fall camp. Fitzgerald Toussaint is more than capable of shouldering the load at the position, but is still going to be hampered by an injury he suffered last season.

    With two of the big boys likely out of the conversation for the most part, Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes are the two most experienced backs on the depth chart. Both seeing limited time last season, they appear to be the two guys that will see much of the action this spring. There is also a talented 2012 recruit in Drake Johnson who will enter the mix and could be one of those players that quickly rises up the depth chart.

    This is a position that won't settle until Green and Toussaint have a fair shot to make their marks felt, but with a solid spring, one of these names could end up seeing a drastic increase in touches.

    Prediction on Who Wins the Job: Thomas Rawls

    Actual Winners: TBD

    Offensive Line

    Michigan is missing the meat of the offensive line heading into the spring. The tackle spots are locked down with two solid players in both Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, but having to replace a center and two guards isn't exactly what a coaching staff likes to hear.

    The good thing is that head coach Brady Hoke has done a tremendous job of recruiting in this department and has a bunch of guys he should feel comfortable with throwing into the fire. The only issue that remains is the lack of experience that this type of rebuilding process comes with.

    Kyle Kalis is a redshirt freshman who has that mean streak that you like to see from an offensive lineman and is capable of playing both the guard and center position. The center spot will be a battle between redshirt sophomore Jack Miller and redshirt junior Joey Burzynksi.

    Other young players who will be battling for playing time this spring include Ben Braden, Dan Gibbs, Erik Magnuson, Graham Glasgow and Blake Bars. 

    Prediction on Who Wins the Job: Taylor Lewan, Kyle Kalis, Jack Miller, Ben Braden and Michael Schofield

    Actual Winners: TBD

Key Defensive Battles to Watch

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    Defensive Line

    Michigan must discover a pass rush from the defensive line. The defense as a whole was great last season, but finishing tied for eighth in the Big Ten with only 22 sacks does not impress anybody.

    Ondre Pipkins is supposed to be the next great thing in the middle of the defensive line for the Wolverines. Seeing very little playing time last year, he has trimmed down during the offseason and is expected to help this unit tremendously. As for the other defensive tackle spot, Quinton Washington held his own last year, but will have some competition along with Jibreel Black.

    The defensive end spots also remain a mystery. Mario Ojemudia and Brennen Beyer will continue to fight it out for the weak-side spot, and will be pushed by early enrollee Taco Charlton. As for the strong-side, Michigan will get a boost with Chris Wormley returning from injury and will see more young bodies competing for playing time with redshirt players like Matt Godin and Tom Strobel adding to the mix.

    Prediction on Who Wins the Job: Frank Clark, Ondre Pipkins, Quinton Washington and Brennen Beyer

    Actual Winners: TBD


    As long as Blake Countess is full recovered from last season’s ACL injury, Michigan will have one less issue to address at the cornerback position. The redshirt sophomore isn't an elite player in the secondary, but was the best cover man the Wolverines had, and he has enough upside to hold down a starting spot. He should be the starter once the regular season kicks off, but likely won't see a ton of reps this spring as he continues to recover.

    As for the other side of the field, it will be open for anybody to take.

    Courtney Avery is the most experienced player in the secondary for Michigan and brings versatility to the table. Ross Douglas, a 2013 recruit, has enrolled early to throw his name into the hat for early playing time. Dennis Norfleet switched to corner late in the year and could continue to see reps at the position, as should Raymon Taylor, who played well when the Wolverines were hit by the injury bug. 

    Prediction on Who Wins the Job: Ramon Taylor and Blake Countess

    Actual Winners: TBD

Early Enrolees Report Card

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    Dymonte Thomas, 4-Star S - Thomas covers a lot of ground at the safety position and is one of the more physical players in this recruiting class. Spending time on both sides of the ball in high school, Thomas also has terrific ball skills and should see immediate playing time for the Wolverines.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: B (Thomas continues to work his way on up the depth chart and will be ready to make an immediate impact.)

    Kyle Bosch, 4-Star OG - Bosch already has his man body at 6'5", 305 pounds and is physical at the point of attack. He is an offensive lineman who plays the game with a chip on his shoulder and doesn't let up until that whistle blows. He will fit in well in Ann Arbor, especially with offensive line being an area of concern.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: C (Bosch didn't play in the spring game due to a hand injury.)

    Logan Tuley-Tillman, 4-Star OT - Much like Bosch, Tuley-Tillman also has much of his collegiate frame already coming out of high school. He also has good length to match and is effective against both the run and pass.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: C (Tuley-Tillman showed some progress, but could be destined for a redshirt this season.)

    Taco Charlton, 4-Star DE - Charlton could develop into that true pass rusher that the Wolverines have lacked over the years. His combination of speed and athleticism allows him to make plenty of plays in the backfield. However, I would like to see him add on a few more pounds to fill out his frame.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: A (Charlton has received a lot credit for the job he has done this spring.)

    Ross Douglas, 3-Star CB - Douglas is a two-way player who spent most of his high school career playing the offensive side of the ball. Likely playing defense for the Wolverines, he brings a quick change of direction to the table, as well as great instincts.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: B (Douglas had a solid spring performance and could see some playing time if he continues to perform well.)

    Jake Butt, 4-Star TE - Butt is somebody who should see the field quite a bit in his first season. At 6'6", he is a huge target at tight end, but also has the terrific hands and body control that you would usually see from a wide receiver.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: C (Butt looked good coming out of high school and performed well during the spring game.)

Sleepers to Watch

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    Offensive Sleeper

    Drake Johnson, RB - With playing time available at the running back position, I'm keeping my eye on this redshirt freshman. Really a bigger back than what you are used to seeing at 6'1", Johnson has excellent vision of the field and is capable of running inside or outside. More of a downhill runner, he does have deceptive speed and can surprisingly make a few guys miss in the open field. Another thing to like about this young runner is the fact he has remarkable hands and could even be used as a weapon in the slot.

    Defensive Sleeper

    James Ross, LB - Ross started in two games last season and was a solid contributor on special teams. With linebacker being a deep position for Michigan, he will have to continue to earn playing time, but he has the talent to get the job done. Ross has a terrific combination of speed and strength that allows him to shed blocks and make the tackle. A physical player who is a force in run support, Ross does a good job of breaking down the play and getting in on the action. Ross also reacts well with a quick first step that could result in him seeing playing time in blitz packages. He does just about everything well that you look for at the middle linebacker spot.