With the season less than four weeks away, the Michigan Wolverines enter the 2013-14 campaign with high hopes.
The 17th-ranked Wolverines are now in the third season of the Brady Hoke era, and a return to the national spotlight doesn't seem to be out of the question for the 11-time National Champions.
Hoke attributes much of the team's apparent balance to a recent influx of depth, as Hoke has had a few seasons on the recruiting trail to bring in the types of players he needs to compete.
But with depth comes competition, which is something Hoke believes is exactly what this team needs to prepare itself for the rigors of a Big Ten season.
"We’re going to be really physical the first two-and-a-half weeks,” Hoke said at the preseason Big Ten meetings. “We’ve got to see who is going to be the guy who can grind every day, put a lot of pressure on them and that is both interiors. That’s where our biggest development has to be.”
With that being said, there are still some positions that remain unclaimed. Here is a look at which positions are still wide open, as well as the players that may be claiming them by the August 31 contest against Central Michigan.
The competition for carries is bound to be one that continues throughout the season, as the Wolverines currently feature two stud running backs that are both capable of shouldering the load.
On one hand is fifth-year senior Fitz Toussaint, who is said to be 100 percent healthy entering the season following a leg injury last season.
Toussaint enters this season with a wealth of experience, as the former All-Big Ten Honorable Mention running back ran for over 1,000 yards in Michigan's 2011 campaign.
After an offseason of rehab, Toussaint comes into camp not only with confidence in his ability to play, but also in his ability to start for this talented Wolverine team.
"Starting running back on August 31?” Toussaint said according to The Detroit News. “I’m going to be the starting running back on August 31. I watched a lot of film, I lifted a lot of weights, I’m just ready to go. I feel like I put in a lot of work.”
Rivaling Toussaint for the starting gig will be freshman Derrick Green, who enters Michigan as a five-star recruit.
Green, who was ranked as the nation's top running back, has a reputation as a bruiser, something which will only be aided by his offseason weight gain.
Green is the highest-ranked prospect signed by Michigan under Hoke, and the Richmond, VA native has the looks of a No. 1 running back.
With that being said, the running back battle will be one to keep an eye on throughout the season, as Green and Toussaint will certainly be battling for carries. But when it comes to the number one spot, no one could explain it better than Hoke.
"We're going to have great competition."
The corner position will also be one to look at, as Michigan features a group of both old and new faces vying for playing time
One side of the field will most likely be manned by sophomore Blake Countess, who featured heavily in 2011 before missing virtually all of 2012 with an ACL injury.
Countess looks to be Michigan's best corner, and with a new view on life, Countess will be making the most of the opportunity in front of him.
"You don't take things for granted, you cherish whatever football you have left to play and you really try to make the most out of it," said Countess according to mlive.com. "I think that's definitely one thing that opened my eyes. Tomorrow's not promised."
The question lies in who will play opposite Countess, as the competition for the second corner position seems wide open.
Junior Raymon Taylor started in place of the injured Countess last season, so the Wolverines staff know exactly what they will be getting if Taylor is inserted into the starting position.
However, the player earning rave reviews has been Delonte Hollowell, who featured prominently throughout the spring.
Also expected to feature is true freshman Dymonte Thomas, whose blitzing ability should earn him time on the field.
"That position, for our defense, has to be able to be a blitzer," said defensive coordinator Greg Mattison according to mlive.com. "(Thomas) really shows that that’s something that he’s going to be able to do very well.
Look for Taylor and Hollowell to compete until the very end, while Thomas will be looked upon to earn experience through a nickelback role.
With the departure of Denard Robinson, redshirt junior Devin Gardner will finally get his opportunity to lead the Wolverine offense.
However, while there are no questions about who will be manning the quarterback position, there are a few about who will be snapping him the ball.
With incumbent starting center Elliott Mealer out after graduating, the Wolverines will have a new starter in the middle of their offensive line.
The apparent favorite according to mlive.com is redshirt sophomore Jack Miller, who featured in six games as a reserve last season. Miller started the spring game back in April.
Competing with Miller will be walk-on Graham Glasgow, who has earned the respect of his teammates throughout practices.
"He's one guy who has stood out to me throughout (last) spring and the fall," said starting left tackle Taylor Lewan. "He has played up to the Michigan level and deserves a shot, possibly."
Look for Miller to earn the shot due to experience, but don't count out the spirit of walk-on Glasgow.
Who do you think will win Michigan's position battles? Have your say with a comment below or tweet @r_tolmich with your ideas!
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