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Michigan Football: 5 Things We Learned About the Wolverines This Spring

Adam BiggersSenior Analyst IIApril 27, 2014

Michigan Football: 5 Things We Learned About the Wolverines This Spring

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    Michigan must have at least two reliable quarterbacks ready to go this fall.
    Michigan must have at least two reliable quarterbacks ready to go this fall.USA TODAY Sports

    Michigan played its spring game three weeks ago. 

    The defensive line looked sharp, the offensive line looked off balance and Devin Gardner, the quarterback, wasn't very impressive.

    That's about it, really. 

    Fall can't come soon enough.

    This spring, unlike the past few, has been relatively uneventful and devoid of positive excitement for the Wolverines, who absolutely need to win nine games in 2014 to satisfy their hungry fanbase. 

    This slideshow will hit some of the topics from the spring game. But it'll also take a look at other lessons and information that we have learned during recent weeks. 

No Guarantees at QB

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    Shane Morris was OK during spring and during the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Could he pass Devin Gardner?
    Shane Morris was OK during spring and during the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Could he pass Devin Gardner?Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    The argument for Devin Gardner is a strong one. He has the experience factor working for him, and considering the fact that the Wolverines' O-line is young and in need of growth, it's highly unlikely that Brady Hoke will favor Shane Morris, a relatively inexperienced sophomore, over the senior signal-caller. 

    That being said, it seems as if there is a battle brewing it Ann Arbor, like it or not. Recent public comments may have been a way to push Gardner, or they may have been absolutely, 100 percent true. 

    Just this past week, Hoke said that Gardner "might" be the starter if the season began today (per Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News). Just about a week prior to that remark, Hoke said that Gardner would be the No. 1 (per Kyle Austin of MLive.com).

    Again, take that for what it's worth. Depending on the perspective, the hint of uncertainty is either great or not so great for Michigan. 

    On one hand, it's an advantage to have a clear-cut No. 1 during spring. It comforts fans. But on the other hand, it's wise to be vague and cryptic during this time of year. Why give it all away months in advance? Plus, there's fall camp. 

    No one really knows what the season will bring. They can only hope for the best. 

     

Chemistry Sets

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    Hoke has to get his team to play as one or risk losing his job.
    Hoke has to get his team to play as one or risk losing his job.Tony Ding

    So, Michigan had poor chemistry in 2013?

    You don't say.

    It wasn't obvious in the least bit. 

    According to MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner, Hoke made a promise to fix issues this season, something he failed to do this past fall: 

    I have to be a better leader, I should have taken some of the leadership (opportunities myself) and not anointed some of that (to just senior players). I could have done a much better job with consistency. Every day.

    (I should have stepped in) a little more, yeah. I think that's part of it.

    U-M coach Brady Hoke said on @SiriusXMCollege that this team has better leadership and chemistry than they've had in a few years

    — Mark Snyder (@Mark__Snyder) April 16, 2014

The Offense Will Miss Jake Butt

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    Jake Butt is one of three receivers who return with 15 or more catches.
    Jake Butt is one of three receivers who return with 15 or more catches.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Late this past season, Jake Butt emerged as a bailout for Gardner, who completed 17 passes for 202 yards to the tight end. 

    Butt also had three catches for 33 yards during the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. His showing was one of few highlights for the Wolverines, who fell 31-14 to Kansas State. 

    While at full capacity, the sophomore provides 6'6", 231 pounds of options and clutchness in the passing game.

    Cases in point: If not for his 11-yard touchdown vs. Northwestern in the first overtime, Michigan may have not walked out of Evanston with a 27-19 triple-OT victory. 

    If not for his five catches for 85 yards, the Wolverines may have not been competitive during their 42-41 loss to Ohio State.

    Here's the kicker: He was one of just three receivers set to return with 15 or more receptions. After him, it's Justice Hayes and Dennis Norfleet in the "experience" pecking order—they're back with a cool six grabs each.

    And they're not technically wideouts.  

    All things considered, the only way was up for Butt. 

    However, as fate would have it, he fell victim to injury during winter workouts. 

    Hoke says again that TE Jake Butt (ACL) could be back by start of big ten season

    — angelique (@chengelis) April 3, 2014

O-Line Could Be Worse Than Last Year

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    Improvement on the O-line will determine Michigan's fate this season.
    Improvement on the O-line will determine Michigan's fate this season.Tony Ding

    Talks of development and depth rule the day. 

    "Wait until Hoke's recruits settle" seems to be the message coming from the optimistic crowd. "He's wasting talent" is another frequently voiced opinion by fans.

    On paper, Michigan's O-line is too big and too good to have been as bad as it was during the spring game. We're talking really bad. And it was only a practice, not even a full spring game. 

    Replacing Taylor Lewan, the former left tackle, won't be easy. Shifting in another for Michael Schofield, the old right tackle, will take time. Doug Nussmeier, the new offensive coordinator, needs to come to an understanding with O-line coach Darrell Funk, who could be coaching for his job this fall. 

    Sacks, burst pockets and backward-running ball-carriers were all too common in 2013. 

    Improvement up front is mandatory. No more excuses. We've all heard the company lines. Where is the proof?

    Darrell Funk Sees an OL Class that Fits #Michigan’s Style - with Video ($) http://t.co/U1tUfMJg

    — Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) February 8, 2013

    Between Ben Braden, Jack Miller, Kyle Kalis, Logan Tuley-Tillman and a host of others, Nussmeier and Funk should have no problem assembling an adequate defense for the quarterback.

Defensive Mindsets

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    Take time to review defensive stats from 2013. You may find a few surprises.
    Take time to review defensive stats from 2013. You may find a few surprises.USA TODAY Sports

    Greg Mattison and Curt Mallory, along with assistants and specialists such as Mark Smith and Roy Manning, have crafted a competitive defense. 

    Maybe "competitive" is underselling it. With added pressure from the D-line and the progression of players such as Ondre Pipkins, the unit as a whole stands to be one of the best in the Big Ten.

    Look at the depth at linebacker. And not only depth, but experience in the form of Jake Ryan. Take a glance at the secondary, which is pretty set without Jabrill Peppers, a star frosh who joins the team this fall. 

    It may not be 1997-ish quite yet, but this defense is a great work in progress. 

    Worth noting: Michigan had 17 picks in 2013 (No. 23 overall). And as crazy as it sounds, the Wolverines actually had the No. 13-ranked total defense in the FBS. Yes, according to NCAA.com, it's true. 

     

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

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