The season starts Aug. 31 against Central Michigan, but Michigan will soon have a chance to prove just how much it’s grown during the offseason.
Prove to itself, that is.
Saturday is the first scrimmage of fall, which follows more than a week of practice in full pads.
While it’s far from game mode, it’s the first truly competitive on-field action of preseason camp. By scrimmage’s end, offensive coordinator Al Borges and running backs coach Fred Jackson should have a clearer picture of their backfield.
The group of wide receivers should be settled, too.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison should have a better look at his linebackers, line and secondary.
And with another opportunity to gauge the feel of the team, head coach Brady Hoke should have a better idea of what's in store for his Wolverines in 2013.
Is it overhyped due to the Michigan name alone, or does Team 134 represent a swing back to the traditional days of Wolverines football?
Hoke, obviously, hopes it’s the latter. Saturday’s scrimmage in Ann Arbor will give him his first real clue.
Run, Run, Run
By now, news of Fitz Toussaint claiming the No. 1 job is old information. A little more than a week ago, the senior expressed his desire to be his team’s go-to tailback.
Entering camp and recovering from leg surgery, the popular thought was that Toussaint would be challenged by freshman Derrick Green for the top spot.
It seems that some may have gone too far by projecting Green into that role.
Earlier this week, Chris Balas of TheWolverine.com was a live guest on the HUGE Show, a popular syndicated program in Michigan. Balas was asked about the running back position by host Bill Simonson, and he urged listeners not to discount 4-star rated freshman DeVeon Smith, a 5’11, 218-pounder out of Warren Howland (Ohio).
Balas praised backs such as Toussaint and Green, but was extremely encouraged by Smith’s strong showings in practice.
Starters haven’t been announced, but consider sophomore James Ross in at weak-side linebacker.
According to Michael Spath of TheWolverine.com, Hoke said as much—by not really saying anything—during a recent interview (subscription required to view). Starting assignments should follow Monday and Tuesday.
Ross told Spath the following about Hoke’s grading period:
He's told us that [starters will be assigned soon]. But every day is an evaluation, and you understand your job is on the line. If you can't make the play, they'll find someone else that can. You have to be on your Ps and Qs every time you step on the field. No missed assignments, no room for that. You have to do your job or coach is going to find somebody else, so it raises the standard considerably
Without Jake Ryan, Ross will be looked upon to help solidify the linebacking corps. In the 2013 Michigan media guide, sophomore Brennen Beyer and junior Desmond Morgan are listed as returning starters.
As a freshman in 2012, Joe Bolden made 12 appearances at linebacker. Now a sophomore, he could be pushed up to starter status if he dazzles in the scrimmage. Bolden is listed as a key returner in the media guide, along with senior Cam Gordon and Ross.
Due to his 4.6-second 40-yard speed, Ross makes sense at the weak side. He’s a play chaser. He can weave through defenders and finish. He’s a great fit for Mattison.
The strong-side position looks like it’ll be filled by a combination of Beyer and Gordon. That leaves the outside linebacker slot open for Bolden, or whoever wants it more this weekend.
With redshirt junior Devin Gardner, the quarterback position is rock solid for Borges’ offense.
The battle for No. 2 between freshman Shane Morris and sophomore walk-on Brian Cleary is in full swing. That's standard procedure, obviously, but having Gardner as the mainstay has to give Wolverines fans a settling feeling.
After all, they haven’t had that since the days of Chad Henne.
The receivers should be led by seniors Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo. Amara Darboh, a sophomore, is listed as a key returnee in the media guide. Relatively unknown outside of his own team, Darboh has turned heads since spring practice. Seeing him at No. 2 or 3 wouldn’t be a shock.
Also figuring into the mix are receivers Jeremy Jackson, a senior, and Jehu Chesson, a sophomore. Young, but not to be overlooked, is a group of new wideouts to watch for this fall: Da’Mario Jones, Jaron Dukes, Csont’e York and redshirt sophomore Bo Dever, of “Not Made in Ohio” fame.
With a consistent approach Saturday, one of them could earn heavy consideration for a spot in the main rotation.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81