TE Devin Funchess (19) makes an acrobatic catch
Fans took their first look at the nucleus of Michigan's 2013 football team during Saturday's annual spring game.
With a pair of outstanding recruiting seasons, the Wolverines will be young, albeit very deep, at several positions.
The coaching staff will have the luxury of rotating players throughout the lineup without fear of a major fall-off in talent.
Let's check out how the depth chart currently stacks up, keeping in mind that today's backup could be a starter come September.
(Note: All quotes from the Michigan spring game press conference via mgoblue.com unless otherwise indicated).
Rush End Taco Charlton (33)
Starter: Quinton Washington
Backups: Ondre Pipkins, Richard Ash, Maurice Hurst
(3-tech) Defensive Tackle
Starter: Jibreel Black
Backups: Willie Henry, Ryan Glasgow, Henry Poggi
Strong-side Defensive End
Starter: Chris Wormley
Backups: Keith Heitzman, Matt Godin, Tom Strobel
Weak-side Defensive End
Starter: Frank Clark
Backups: Mario Ojemudia, Taco Charlton*
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has made tremendous strides with a defense that allowed 35.2 points per game the season before he arrived.
Despite allowing just 18.6 over the last two seasons, Michigan is still fighting an anemic pass rush from its front four.
Improvement in that area has been a priority this spring. "I really think the work is being put in," head coach Brady Hoke said after the spring game. "The guys are excited about it. They know what we want to do and what the goal is. We're better. We're not near what we can be, and what we will be, but we're a little better at it."
Hoke and Mattison are anticipating a defensive line with Frank Clark at rush end, Chris Wormley at strong-side end, Quinton Washington at the nose and Jibreel Black at tackle.
While experienced depth at the ends has improved dramatically, Michigan might use some additional interior line help from a pair of incoming freshmen, Henry Poggi of Baltimore (Md.) Gilman and Maurice Hurst of Westwood (Mass.) Xaverian.
SAM linebacker Cam Gordon (4)
Starter: Cam Gordon, Brennen Beyer
Backups: Brennen Beyer, Mark Lawson, Ben Gedeon
Starter: Desmond Morgan
Backups: Joe Bolden, Royce Jenkins-Stone, Michael McCray
Starter: James Ross III
Backups: Joe Bolden, Desmond Morgan, Mike Jones
Michigan is also building depth at linebacker, but not by design. When team-leading tackler Jake Ryan was recently lost to the team with an ACL tear, Michigan suddenly had a huge hole to fill.
Cam Gordon will be Ryan’s replacement, while Brennen Beyer moved over from defensive end to add depth.
In fact, Michigan received some good news when Hoke reported that Ryan, who had surgery in mid-March, should return in plenty of time for the Michigan State game (Nov. 2).
“You know, I’m not a doctor. But possibly middle of October,” Hoke said.
The only other surprise this spring was Desmond Morgan moving from WILL to MIKE so Hoke can get his best 11 on the field.
CB Blake Countess (18)
Starter: Blake Countess
Backups: Delonte Hollowell, Ross Douglas*, Channing Stribling
Starter: Ramon Taylor
Backups: Terry Richardson, Jourdan Lewis, Reon Dawson
Starter: Courtney Avery, Dymonte Thomas*, Delano Hill
The return of the team’s No. 1 cornerback, Blake Countess, is a huge plus.
Michigan loses J.T. Floyd to graduation, but starting corner Ramon Taylor returns along with nickelback Courtney Avery.
Cass Tech high school teammates Terry Richardson and Delonte Hollowell return to provide added depth, while early enrollees Ross Douglas and Dymonte Thomas contributed extensively during spring practice.
Thomas, Scout.com's No. 4-rated safety, was given a long look at both nickel and corner this spring and could be a surprise this fall.
Jarrod Wilson (22)
Starter: Jarrod Wilson
Backups: Marvin Robinson, Dymonte Thomas*
Starter: Thomas Gordon
Backups: Josh Furman, Jeremy Clark, Allen Gant
Missing from the strong safety position is Jordan Kovacs, who entered Michigan as a walk-on and left as a star.
Thomas Gordon, who inherited the free safety slot a season ago, will be expected to assume Kovacs’ leadership duties.
“Thomas is having a real solid, real good spring” Hoke said. “He’s been very much the leader. And then Jarrod played quite a bit a year ago, and he’s come along.”
Jarrod Wilson, who had several reps at strong safety a year ago, should open there this fall.
At 6’4”, 201 pounds, redshirt freshman Jeremy Clark is a giant when it comes to safeties. He, along with early enrollee Dymonte Thomas, will be pushing veterans Josh Furman and Marvin Robinson for playing time.
Kicker Brendan Gibbons (34)
Kickoffs: Matt Wile
Punts: Matt Wile, Kenneth Allen, Will Hagerup
Field Goals: Brendan Gibbons
Kickoff Returns: Dennis Norfleet, Drew Dileo, Jeremy Gallon, Justice Hayes
Punt Returns: Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo
Long Snapper: Jareth Glanda
Holder: Drew Dileo
Michigan should be grateful it has a pair of versatile kickers on the roster.
A year ago, Matt Wile handled kickoffs, made a 52-yard field goal and also took over the punting duties while Will Hagerup was suspended.
With Hagerup still on suspension, redshirt freshman Kenneth Allen may be called on to lend a foot to the Wolverines this fall.
Allen, who joined the team as a walk-on in 2012, has been known to regularly punt balls off the ceiling of Michigan’s Al Glick Field House.
Redshirt senior Brandon Gibbons, who’s made 29 of 35 field goals over the last two years, could be headed for an All-American season.
The return game should remain the same as last year with Dennis Norfleet returning kicks and Jeremy Gallon handling punts.
Michigan Offensive Line
Starter: Taylor Lewan
Backups: Erik Magnuson, Logan Tuley-Tillman*, Kristian Mateus
Starter: Ben Bradin
Backups: Joey Burzynski, Kyle Bosch
Starter: Jack Miller
Backups: Graham Glasgow, Joey Burzynski, Patrick Kugler
Starter: Kyle Kalis
Backups: Chris Bryant, Chris Fox
Starter: Mike Schofield
Backups: Erik Gunderson, David Dawson, Dan Samuelson
With Michigan completing its transition to a downhill, between-the-tackles running attack, the offensive line will be the key element.
Michigan could shuttle in six or seven running backs, but if the line doesn’t come through, points will be hard to come by.
Except for redshirt senior tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, Michigan will be very young up front.
Heading into the fall, it appears that redshirt sophomore Jack Miller has won the center job, Kyle Kalis will start at right guard and Ben Bradin will be the new left guard.
"We moved and established the line of scrimmage today, and I think that is one thing that we haven't seen in a while," Lewan said during the postgame press conference. "I think that just shows how hard these guys have worked in the offseason. But what we do in the summer and do in fall camp is really going to define us as an offensive line."
Let’s not forget guard Chris Bryant, who’s now recovered from a fractured tibia suffered prior to the 2012 season. Then there's outstanding freshman Patrick Kugler, who could easily upset the depth chart this fall by winning either a guard or center position.
TE Devin Funchess (19) and LB Cam Gordon (4)
Starter: Jeremy Gallon
Backups: Jeremy Jackson, Jehu Chesson, Da'Mario Jones
Starter: Amara Darboh,
Backups: Joe Reynolds, Jaron Dukes, Csont'e York
Starter: Drew Dileo
Backups: Joe Reynolds
Starter: Devin Funchess
Backups: A.J. Williams, Jake Butt, Khalid Hill
Offensive coordinator Al Borges has an interesting conundrum at tight end this season.
Sophomore Devin Funchess is a great receiver who’s learning to block, sophomore A.J. Williams is a great blocker who’s learning to catch and early enrollee Jake Butt can do both but lacks experience.
The solution? Run plenty of two- and three-tight end sets. Regardless, Borges will have a solid rotation to work with, possibly using one of his tight ends as an h-back.
At wide receiver, Michigan is also trending toward taller, more physical players.
Youngsters Amara Darboh (6'2", 213 lbs) and Jehu Chesson (6'3, 193 lbs) had impressive springs as did senior Jeremy Jackson (6’3”, 206 lbs) and redshirt senior Joe Reynolds (6'1", 200 lbs).
Let’s not forget Michigan’s mighty mites. Jeremy Gallon (5’8”, 187 lbs), who led Michigan with 49 catches, and Drew Dileo (5'10”, 187 lbs), who chipped in with 20, will be Devin Gardner’s favorite targets early in the season.
QB Devin Gardner (12) hands off to RB Justice Hayes (5)
Starter: Fitz Toussaint
Backups: Derrick Green, DeVeon Smith, Justice Hayes, Thomas Rawls, Drake Johnson, Dennis Norfleet
Starter: Joe Kerridge
Backups: Wyatt Shallman, Sione Houma
After Saturday’s spring game, Coach Hoke summed up the running back situation.
Fitz (Toussaint), he’s made really good strides. He probably could have done a little more, but I think his progress is pretty good. I think Thomas (Rawls) made a nice run in there today, had a really nice cut. (Dennis) Norfleet made a guy miss in the hole. I think Drake (Johnson) ran hard, and Justice (Hayes) protected well a couple times there, but we’re a work in progress. Has there been any separation? I don’t think so yet. We’ll go through some of it in the fall.
Without a clear favorite, could we see a seven-man battle for the starting position once super backs Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith arrive this summer?
Or does it mean that either Green (Scout.com's No. 1 running back recruit) or Smith will win the job this fall?
QB Devin Gardner (12)
Starter: Devin Gardner
Backups: Shane Morris, Brian Cleary, Alex Swieca
Devin Gardner became Michigan's starting quarterback after Denard Robinson injured his throwing arm against Nebraska. In his five starts, Gardner was very impressive, completing 75 of 126 passes for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. The former 5-star recruit from Inkster began the season as a wide receiver, catching 16 passes, including four for touchdowns.
At 6'4", 210 pounds, Gardner has developed into a pure dropback passer, ideal for Michigan's new pro-style offense. In Saturday's spring game, Gardner looked extremely comfortable in the pocket, hitting wide receiver Amara Darboh on a 30-yard fly pattern to open the game, then finding tight end Devin Funchess down the middle.
Michigan, however, has a potential problem at backup. With the recent ACL injury to Russell Bellomy, Hoke only had a pair of walk-ons to play relief roles in the spring game. Shane Morris, the highly touted quarterback from Warren (Mich.) De La Salle, arrives this summer with hopes of not only serving as an adequate backup but challenging Gardner for the starting job as well.
Hoke hasn't ruled out bringing in a junior college player or a graduate transfer, but finding the right fit is rare. Hoke added, "He better be pretty good."