Michigan returns to the practice field eager to forget the memories of last season’s disastrous collapse. With outside temperatures in the low single digits, the team practiced in their massive indoor practice facility, shielded from the bitter wind chill outside and any prying eyes hoping to get a glimpse of the workouts.
“It’s good to be back on the field; there was a lot of energy,” said head coach Brady Hoke. “It’s fun to practice again.”
Hoke seemed satisfied with the intensity of the workout and announced some position changes and reports on key positions.
Here is a stock report from week one of the Wolverines’ spring practice.
Devin Gardner, Quarterback
Devin Gardner ended last season with a gutsy performance vs. Ohio State that fell just short of victory. Gardner played much of the second half with a broken foot that prevented him from being available for bowl preparations and forced backup Shane Morris into the starting role.
Hoke had indicated that Gardner’s rehab would limit his participation this spring. So it came as a surprise that instead of gently easing back into the grind, Gardner participated in the entire practice.
Hoke, commenting during a press conference posted on mgoblue.com, said, “He was live, we’re out there in shorts and helmets, but he looked great…Believe me, I was as much surprised how he went as anybody.”
Gardner's participation came as a surprise even to his teammates.
Gardner’s strong return means that his stock is rising after an uncertain offseason.
Jake Ryan, Linebacker
Two big changes were announced concerning the middle of the Michigan defense. Brady Hoke revealed that Jake Ryan is moving to middle linebacker after being lined up outside in past seasons.
The move is expected to keep Ryan in the middle of the action and provide him with the best opportunity to be involved in every play.
Coaching him will be defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who adds responsibility for the linebackers to his duties.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Mattison on mgoblue.com. “The reason we did this is it allows me…the best way to call the game and be where you need to be as a coordinator.”
Ryan has been a force on defense, and this move raises his stock. He should feast on the increased opportunities that come with being in the middle of the action, and the increased tutelage from Mattison is a bonus.
Ben Braden, Offensive Tackle
With the graduation of tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, Michigan loses two of its top performers from an offensive line that otherwise struggled last season.
Braden’s raw talent has been praised, and with the injury to tackle Eric Magnuson it’s critical that Braden nails down one of the open tackle positions this spring.
Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier laid out the challenge for the offensive line on mgoblue.com: "We have to secure the line of scrimmage, we can’t have loss-yardage run plays and can’t have sacks.”
It sounds simple, but the offensive line was a major problem all last season.
Braden is currently slated to fill the right tackle position, and his stock is on the rise as Michigan tries to fix the position group that played a huge part in the team’s late-season collapse.
Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith, Running Backs
Former offensive coordinator Al Borges made no secret that he preferred to have one running back carrying the load on offense. This made it difficult for players to move up the depth chart even as last year’s starter Fitzgerald Toussaint struggled.
New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier favors a different approach.
“You’d like to use multiple backs,” said Nussmeier. “You look at the pounding the running backs take these days and how physical the game is. One back carrying the load all the time makes it awful difficult to stay healthy and sustain success over a season.”
That opens the way for multiple running backs in the rotation for next season.
“We haven’t established a runner,” continued Nussmeier. “There’s a group of running backs right now, and that will be an interesting competition to watch develop.”
Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith, both of whom showed promise at the practice, will get opportunities to carry the ball. Both of their stocks are rising as Nussmeier retools the Michigan offense.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise, noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.