Michigan Football: 9 Former Top Recruits Who Will Finally Shine in 2014
The Jabrill Peppers hype has reached a fever pitch in Ann Arbor, but Michigan will need big performances from these former top recruits to compete for the Big Ten title.
Big opportunities exist on offense, where offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is rolling out a new scheme which fans hope will lead to a Big Ten championship.
Here are nine former top recruits who will finally make good on their promise in 2014.
All season statistics from MGoBlue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department web site.
Wide receiver Amara Darboh (redshirt sophomore) was all set to break into the lineup last season until a foot injury sidelined him shortly before the start of the season.
The graduation of receivers Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo coupled with the injury of tight end Jake Butt opens up playing time at receiver.
It’s time for this former 4-star prospect to seize the opportunity or risk being surpassed by younger recruits like Freddy Canteen.
The Michigan offensive line struggled last season, and Kyle Kalis (redshirt sophomore) was part of the reason.
Hampered by injuries, he lost his starting position, and rumors swirled that he might transfer. Kalis denied to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com that he ever considered leaving and that he expects to regain a starting position on the offensive line this season.
Having lost two offensive lineman to the NFL, Michigan needs Kalis to play well and stay healthy to avoid another disappointing season.
Running backs Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith were the talk of spring camp, but it was Justice Hayes (redshirt junior) who shined in the final spring practice at Michigan Stadium.
Hayes has distinguished himself with great blocking skills, something that Michigan desperately needs as Nussmeier rolls out his new offense. The coaches may consider him to be the best third-down back on the team, but his gritty running in the spring game shows that he’s more than capable to adding to his 89 career rushing yards.
Sophomore cornerback Jourdan Lewis starred in the Michigan spring scrimmage, bagging two interceptions and returning one for 20 yards.
Lewis played sparingly last season, compiling 16 tackles over the course of six games, but looks primed to help Michigan bounce back to the top of the Big Ten.
The struggles of the Michigan offensive line last season are well documented. Erik Magnuson (redshirt sophomore) started seven games and missed spring practice but is expected to compete at tackle when fall camp opens.
Magnuson's experience is needed upfront, if he can put his injuries and last season’s inconsistent play behind him.
Junior Dennis Norfleet has starred on special teams as a kick returner (75 returns for 1,765 yards, 23.5 yard average per return) but has only managed six receptions for 46 yards at wide receiver.
The graduation of Gallon and Dileo leaves the door open for another receiver to complement Devin Funchess until Jake Butt returns from injury. This is Norfleet’s best chance to break into the rotation at wide receiver.
For most of last season both sophomore De’Veon Smith and Derrick Green were firmly behind senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint on the depth chart.
Eventually, Smith showed a glimpse of his talent versus Northwestern (eight carries for 41 yards) and Ohio State (seven carries for 57 yards). Nussmeier has stated that he prefers multiple running backs, but Smith is looking to be at the top of the depth chart.
Quarterback Shane Morris gained valuable practice time when Devin Gardner went down with an injury against Ohio State.
Nussmeier will be looking for the best quarterback to helm his new offense, and Gardner’s spring game performance didn’t give the impression that he has a lock on the position.
If Gardner stumbles when the season begins, Morris will get an opportunity to lead Michigan, but he’ll also need to contend with Russell Bellomy and Wilton Speight.
All signs point to sophomore Derrick Green being the breakout player on offense next season.
Last season he languished behind Toussaint on the depth chart but still rushed for 270 yards on 83 carries. Green has dropped 20 pounds since last season and dueled all spring with De’Veon Smith for the top position on the depth chart.
“De’Veon and I are brothers, but competition is what will make this team better,” said Green when asked about the competition. “Coach Nussmeier is all about having a one-two punch.”
Green and Smith are both expected to excel this season, but Green is gunning to be the first punch delivered in Nussmeier’s new 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.