Brady Hoke has proved to be a master recruiter, and his efforts have revitalized the Michigan football program in a major way. In addition to his penchant for landing talented high school players, Hoke has shown a willingness to let these youngsters hit the field early in their careers.
Last year, Russell Bellomy, Devin Funchess, Justice Hayes and many others were afforded opportunities to impact their team—and they did so, with varying degrees of success.
This year's crop of incoming freshmen features a few young men who are certain to contribute on Saturdays. It remains to be seen how well they'll perform, but given the team's current circumstances and needs, they'll have a chance to become major players.
Taco Charlton, Defensive End
One of the biggest weaknesses for Michigan last season (and in recent history) was the defense's inability to manufacture consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Linebacker Jake Ryan led the team with 4.5 sacks.
That isn't good, for those who may be wondering.
Charlton was one of a handful of freshmen who enrolled early at Michigan. According to MLive.com's Kyle Meinke, he put on 16 pounds of muscle in his first three months with the team (what are they feeding him?) and has drawn rave reviews from the team's coaching staff.
The 18-year-old physical freak now measures in at 6'6" and 265 pounds and has been spending his afternoons battling with the likes of All-American Taylor Lewan.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison seems to be somewhat in awe of his young protege, via Meinke, saying, "Sometimes I look at him and I say, ‘You’re too big to play.’"
With Brennen Beyer moving to linebacker this year to help in the absence of the injured Ryan, Michigan is in need of a pass-rusher to step up more now than ever.
With this in mind, Charlton will be one of the men Mattison throws into the fire early to see if he has what it takes to become a rotating player on the team's defensive line this season.
Derrick Green, Running Back
Everyone hopes Fitz Toussaint can come back 100 percent healthy from his leg injury. That said, there's absolutely no guarantee he'll be able to return to the form that saw him rush for over 1,000 yards and score nine touchdowns two years ago.
Even if Toussaint is able to show the same explosiveness and speed he displayed in 2011, the Wolverines will certainly give true freshman Green a chance to show his stuff at some point in the 2013 season.
If Toussaint fails to come back strong, Green could easily become the team's featured back this season. Scout.com and Rivals.com both have Green listed as the No. 1 incoming freshman at his position in 2013, and for good reason.
At 6'0" and 220 pounds, Green is a power back who can move.
Rivals has listed his 40-yard dash time at 4.40 seconds, which, if correct, would have put him as the third-fastest man at his position at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.
Which incoming freshman has the best chance to become a star for the Wolverines in 2013?
According to his Scout.com profile, Green rushed for 1,285 yards and 20 touchdowns on just 184 carries and caught seven passes for 110 yards and one touchdown last year as a senior at Hermitage High School in Virginia.
The scary part?
He missed 17 quarters of action due to the fact that his team was often up on its opponents.
Green will play for Michigan in 2013. The only real question at this point is how much of an impact he'll make.
Dymonte Thomas, Defensive Back
As Meinke of MLive.com noted back in mid-April, Thomas caught the eye of Mattison this past spring.
A big cornerback, at 6'2" and 187 pounds, Thomas offers a nice blend of size, speed and physicality to the Wolverines—a team in need of those qualities on defense.
Thomas saw extensive action in the team's spring game at the nickel corner position, as reported by Meinke, and Mattison expects him to continue to become a key cog in his defense in the fall:
Based on the spring, you’re going to see a guy that’s heading in the right direction to be there quite a bit in the fall...That position [nickel corner], for our defense, has to be able to be a blitzer. (Thomas) really shows that that’s something that he’s going to be able to do very well.
He’s a very conscientious young man. For a guy that comes that should have been at his prom to be here the whole time, and for him to pick it up like he did...Dymonte Thomas had a very, very good spring for a freshman.
Barring some unforeseen development between now and the start of the regular season, it appears that Thomas will become a player Mattison relies on more and more.
If his current trend of impressing Michigan's coaching staff holds up, this big, physical young cornerback could become a household name before too long.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78.