Once Michigan completes its spring game on April 5, Brady Hoke and his coaching staff will start penciling in the names of No. 1s on the depth chart.
That’s “penciling,” not “inking.” Rarely, if ever, does a team have a concrete, ironclad outlook on the upcoming season’s roster after what essentially boils down to a glorified practice. The spring game is beneficial, but it’s not a firm measure of potential.
It gives a decent idea.
Which position battle is most important to team chemistry and flow of offense?
At the moment, the battle for quarterback is probably the most interesting tussle for control. Devin Gardner is looking to start for a second consecutive season, but the senior could be leapfrogged by Shane Morris, a rocket-armed sophomore who’s itching to show his worth.
Gardner can operate in a pro-style offense, but he’s more of a dual-threat, spread-friendly quarterback. However, given the beating he endured in 2013—one of the worst of any Michigan signal-caller—he’s the default guy until otherwise noted.
Competition at running back is always a hot topic, and the Wolverines have a matured Derrick Green, De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson, who’s returning from an ACL injury, ready to grab the reins and—hopefully for Brady Hoke’s sake—run for lots of yards and touchdowns.
Graham Glasgow is the presumed starter at center, but that won’t keep Ben Pliska, Patrick Kugler and Jack Miller from aiming for the job.
In 2013, the middle of the offensive line was the issue. So was the “middle” of the offense, as in the line of exchange from center to quarterback to running back.
In all likelihood, there will be more answers after Team 135 suits up for its spring clash. For now, let’s focus on the top three spots up for grabs.
Don’t tab Morris as ready just yet. Remember, he has just one shining performance to reference—and that was due to a conservatively planned approach during Michigan’s 31-14 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl loss to Kansas State.
He wasn't allowed to throw downfield, but went 24-for-38 with 196 yards and a touchdown. That was good enough to prompt optimism.
He’s 6’4” and roughly 205 pounds—ideal for Doug Nussmeier’s left-handed, throw-the-ball offense. Nussmeier, a former NFL backup, is also a lefty. That could help Morris form some sort of allegiance with his fellow southpaw, who, in turn, could write the playbook in a lefty-friendly manner.
That, of course, wouldn’t happen. But just play along.
Right now, Nussmeier has his pick of who’s going to throw the ball in 2014. He doesn’t have an allegiance to Gardner, despite Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com reporting that the coordinator recently praised the senior who was sacked 34 times in 2013.
Conventional wisdom says Gardner, based on experience, will be the starter. However, remember A.J. McCarron at Alabama, and you’ll see a quarterback closer to Morris than Gardner, who possesses an unfamiliar but not totally alien skill set when compared to Nussmeier’s prior students.
The word out of Ann Arbor is pro-Gardner. Right now. That could easily change between now and summer camp.
Spring practice is almost over ... and Devin Gardner remains Michigan's starting QB. http://t.co/QkcPsrsvYk— Freep Sports (@freepsports) March 27, 2014
RBs for Days
The departure of Thomas Rawls leaves a hole in the backfield and Michigan hopes that Ross Douglas, who played the position in high school, provides support.
Of course, Team 135 will rely on Green and Smith, a pair of sophomore backs who resemble what Nussmeier had at Alabama.
They were recruited by Alabama too—by Nussmeier personally, in fact.
With that being said, there shouldn't be a clear leader. Neither one put up enough to really give an accurate view of the future, but the small samples from this past season definitely lean toward positive returns rather than busted losses.
Appearing slightly more advanced, Smith charged hard when given opportunities. Despite having just 26 carries, he posted a team-leading average of 4.5 yards per tote—that's excluding usual suspects such as quarterbacks, rarely used runners.
Should Johnson make a fully healthy return, he'll vie for touches as well.
The former Ann Arbor Pioneer star began turning heads during camp in 2013. However, he suffered an ACL injury in Week 1 of the season and never made his way back to the lineup.
And there's always Justice Hayes, who's somehow avoided getting entirely lost in the mix. Due to a great set of hands and moves upon moves, the former Grand Blanc standout could also be a viable slot receiver.
Really, this position probably belongs to Glasgow. Due to a violation of team policy, he will miss the season opener against Appalachian State. As of now, though, he's the No. 1 option for the middle of the O-line.
Well, he's the top choice from Michigan's current and available source of talent. Put it that way.
Michigan's Graham Glasgow returns to spring practice following brief suspension http://t.co/1fVqWCsKg0— Michigan Sports (@michigansports) March 27, 2014
Now a sophomore, Kugler has had a year to acclimate himself to Big Ten football. However, he's no stranger to high-level competition, entering Ann Arbor as the country's No. 1 center per 247Sports. A high priority for O-line coach Darrell Funk, Kugler represented the next generation of bulk in the middle.
Weighing in at about 290 pounds, Kugler's 6'6" frame could be exactly what the Wolverines need to make their quarterback and running backs feel comfortable. Then again, Glasgow, who is 6'6" and weighs 308 pounds, has nine starts at the position and possesses the edge in experience.
Jack Miller, who has four starts, and Ben Pliska, who has none, have also been mentioned as contenders.
April 5 will settle a few scores and give a clearer look at what Team 135 has to offer.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81