Michigan Football: Position Changes Highlight Opening of Spring Practice
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Just in case you have a recent depth chart saved with your favorites, go ahead and file it in the trash.
Michigan head coach Brady Hoke is experimenting at several positions, and we're just a few days into spring practice.
Some of the moves were dictated by the overlap of 2012 injuries, some by graduation and others by Hoke's desire to get his best 11 on the field. In either case, we'll see how the next month of drills play out when Michigan hosts its annual spring game April 13.
With Michigan's depth improving at several positions, Hoke hopes to stage an actual competitive game this time instead of the controlled scrimmages of the past.
You'll definitely need a program for the defense, which will change in personnel or scheme on practically every series.
Could Cam Gordon Complete his Comeback?
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will once again toy with the 3-4 to go along with the base 4-3 under.
Senior linebacker Cam Gordon is finally coming into his own after a 2011 back injury. The former safety appeared to be a star in the making back in 2010 when he made 77 tackles as a hybrid safety.
Should Gordon continue his comeback, Mattison could then move Jake Ryan to the weakside end on certain occasions.
Senior Jibreel Black was first expected to return to his old strongside end position to replace Craig Roh. But now, Black has resumed his experiment at tackle while redshirt freshman Chris Wormley has a legitimate shot at strongside end.
There's also been speculation that junior Frank Clark, who is up to 277 pounds from 262, might move from the weakside over to the strongside to battle redshirt freshman Tom Strobel (mlive.com). Wormley, who is fully recovered from the 2012 ACL injury and has bulked up to 290 pounds, could compete with Black at the tackle position.
In the 4-3 scheme, the line could consist of true freshman Taco Charlton at WSE, slimmed down sophomore Ondre Pipkins (313 lbs. from 333) at NT, Black or Wormley at DT and redshirt frosh Tom Strobel at SDE. The linebacker corps could end up with Ryan at SAM, junior Desmond Morgan at MIKE and Joe Bolden at WILL.
In the 3-4 alignment, Ryan, redshirt senior Quinton Washington and Clark would be on the line while Cam Gordon, Morgan, Bolden and sophomore James Ross III would be at linebacker.
Even more intriguing is Hoke's thinking at safety. Thomas Gordon is a no brainer at one safety slot, but who will replace the solid play of Jordan Kovacs?
“Thomas, I’m sure, will take a lead, but Jarrod Wilson played a number of plays,” Hoke said in a recent press conference via mgoblue.com. “We’ve got Allen Gant, we’ve got Marvin Robinson, we’ve got Jeremy Clark—Gant and Clark need to get reps, need to get out there, need to get comfortable. We have some young guys who came in in January, Dymonte [Thomas] and Ross Douglas. Where they fit in we'll find out."
Then came the surprise. “...I think the question about who’s going to be your bell cow will most likely be Thomas (Gordon)," Hoke added. "We’ll look to him and I guess Courtney Avery will be the two guys on the back end.”
Actually, looking at their poor pass coverage against South Carolina, you can see why Hoke would want better results from the safeties. Avery, who is now a senior, has played both safety and nickelback, so moving to safety makes sense. Also, it may take time before the others are ready to jump in.
Competition Keen on Interior Offensive Line
Offensively, highly-touted redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis moves into Chris Bryant's spot at right guard. Bryant was expected to win the job last year, but a leg injury forced him to miss all of 2012 and will keep him from the contact drills this spring. Early enrollee Kyle Bosch will be competing with Kalis, so Bryant will be on the outside looking in this fall.
With Kalis moving to right guard, that leaves redshirt freshman Ben Braden to compete with Joey Burzynski and Blake Bars.
There are no surprises at center where redshirt sophomore Jack Miller has the edge, and at tackles where Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield are back for their final seasons.
Redshirt junior Devin Gardner has a solid hold on the starting quarterback position, and if Hoke decides to play a real spring game, you'll see redshirt sophomore Russell Bellomy trying to prove his disappointing performance at Nebraska was just a fluke.
Gardner will be showing fans that Michigan really does have a vertical passing game. Of course, sophomore Amara Darboh, redshirt frosh Jehu Chesson and redshirt senior Jeremy Gallon must also do their part from the receiving position.
Since redshirt senior Fitz Toussaint is also missing contact work this spring, look for redshirt freshman Drake Johnson, sophomore Dennis Norfleet, junior Thomas Rawls and redshirt sophomore Justice Hayes to fight for a spot in the running back rotation. That is, until freshman phenoms Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith arrive this fall.
If the quality competition this spring produces victories this fall, a Big Ten championship is just over the horizon.
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