Michigan Football: 5 Players Who Should See Their Roles Expanded in 2014

Adam Biggers@@AdamBiggers81Senior Analyst IIMarch 28, 2014

Team 135 is taking shape. Be on the lookout for ascending stock.
Team 135 is taking shape. Be on the lookout for ascending stock.Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Change is inevitable.

By virtue of graduation, expired eligibility and recruiting, each new season brings about a fresh crop of contributors and potential heroes.

If all goes as planned, that’ll be the case for Michigan, which loses Jeremy Gallon, Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. But it shuffles Keith Heitzman, Ross Douglas and Jake Ryan, among others, to new spots within the scheme.

Getting the most out of each athlete is the name of the game for Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke, who enters his fourth season as the HMIC in Ann Arbor.

New to the land, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will certainly brainstorm with Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison in an attempt to maximize the growth of Team 135.

However, synchronicity doesn’t happen overnight.

Getting all of the moving pieces to effortlessly flow is beyond necessary if the Wolverines look to make a run at the Big Ten title.

Increased roles are the horizon for several players, but the five highlighted in this piece stand to benefit the most from Operation Relocation. 

Tighten up, Keith

Oct 19, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Indiana Hoosiers quarterback Nate Sudfeld (7) throws the ball as Michigan Wolverines defensive end Keith Heitzman (92) goes to tackle in the first quarter at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sp
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

At 6'3" and 280 pounds, Keith Heitzman has the size for defensive end. 

But then again, the junior fits at tight end, a position that grew a bit thin due to Jake Butt's ACL injury.

Running with good graces from the Football Gods and positive reports, Butt appears to be on the fast track to recovery. 

However, there is no need to rush. If anything, Nussmeier has been given the opportunity to accentuate hidden talent. It's time to take advantage and build a stockpile. 

“I honestly was in shock for a moment,” Heitzman said of the move to tight end, via Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com. “I thought that was just a huge change-up. It was definitely shocking.”

Shocking? Maybe.

But it shouldn't have been that much of a surprise.

In all honesty, this move could have been easily predicted, which is always easier to say after the fact. Heitzman, though, is incredibly agile and athletic. 

Long arms, long stride, and the ability to absorb hits—he's more than a stop-gap, he's an A1 offensive starter in training.


Ross Douglas may be more of a "could" than "should." 

But his jump to the backfield, a familiar place, could prove quite beneficial for a team looking to build depth.

Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith are the presumed Nos. 1 and 2 in the mixture, but don't rule out seeing a third, or even fourth, back in the rotation. 

Rather than featuring just one or two, Nussmeier prefers the multi-system. While at Alabama, he hit opponents with healthy doses of T.J. Yeldon, Dee Hart, Jalston Fowler and Derrick Henry. That worked out pretty well for him. 

Douglas' future among ball-carriers isn't definite. Whether in the secondary or on offense, he'll see more snaps this fall. 

Hoke recently updated the status of the 5'10," 185-pound sophomore who didn't see the field this past season, via Baumgardner

He's doing OK, there's a learning curve for him. Justice [Hayes], De'Veon and Derrick are a little bit ahead still, but I think Ross is giving us a little bit more depth and that's really good for us.

We'll do this through spring and see how he does, and then make a determination if he'll go back to DB.

Transition shouldn't be an issue. Douglas toted the ball in high school, and he was quite efficient while doing so. 

Old Name: Sam; New Name: Mike

Jake Ryan is set to lead Michigan's LB corps--and it's entire defense.
Jake Ryan is set to lead Michigan's LB corps--and it's entire defense.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Being an outside/strong-side linebacker never kept Jake Ryan from being involved in just about every play. Now that he's in the middle (sorry, Malcolm), "just about every play" could turn into "every play, period." 

He's the brains behind the defense, and it only makes sense to project him to have increased role in 2014. The 6'3," 241-pound senior not only has an ax to grind—going out on a high note is probably important—but he also has a professional career staring him in the face. 

More tackles, more action, more looks—expect to see a ton of Ryan this fall.

When healthy, he's a staple of Mattison's game plan. Now that he's back from an ACL injury suffered in 2013 spring ball, forging ahead at full steam is goal No. 1.  Everyone is watching. At full capacity, he's easily one of the elite linebackers in the nation. 

Debuting Dymonte

Dymonte Thomas is ready to move up the depth chart.
Dymonte Thomas is ready to move up the depth chart.Tony Ding

In 2013, Curt Mallory's secondary progressed...and regressed.

Up and down, back and forth, the set of defensive backs lacked lockdown consistency but still made enough plays to keep the Wolverines competitive. 

But the corners won't forget Allen Robinson's Hail Mary catch that helped Penn State squeak by with a 43-40 quadruple-overtime victory in Happy Valley. Those types of jawbreakers must be avoided. 

With just three games to his credit, Dymonte Thomas is part of Michigan's barely tapped reserve. The 6'2," 191-pound sophomore possesses the ability to hit, hit and hit. He's a hammer looking for nails. 

Following a few adjustments, the defensive backfield could end up as Mattison's strongest unit. Of course, the linebackers are so deep that they're swimming, but don't look past safeties and corners. In all likelihood, Thomas will be at the front of Team 135's DB wave. 

From OG to the OC

A bad reality TV series?! 

Oct 12, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Michigan Wolverines offensive linesmen Graham Glasgow (61) prepares to snap the ball to quarterback Devin Gardner (98) during the fourth quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium. Penn State def
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan's overall success will eventually come down to the O-Line, just as it did in 2013. Prior to the season, the optimistic bunch saw, well, the bright side.

Seeing the positives wasn't difficult, not by a long shot. Hoke's recruited as well as any coach in the Big Ten. Getting talent up front hasn't been a problem—grooming it to starting levels has been. 

Graham Glasgow is the next man up on the carousel. The middle of the line was a weakness, so throwing him at center instead of guard appears to be the right choice. During his career, the 6'6," 308-pound senior has made 13 starts, including nine at center. 

Thus far, there haven't been droves of people singing the praises of Glasgow, who is most certainly due for a fair shot at No. 1 job. He'll miss the season opener vs. Appalachian State, but he won't slip out of the picture. 

Glasgow's just getting ready. A momentary setback shouldn't completely hinder his ascent. 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81


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