Michigan enters Brady Hoke’s fourth season under pressure to bounce back from last season’s 7-6 record. Hoke has yet to win a Big Ten championship and the path just got tougher with Ohio State and Michigan State now both in the newly formed Big Ten East Division. Successful recruiting classes have the roster stocked with raw talent but light on experience in key positions.
Junior Devin Funchess will be the top threat at receiver until tight end Jake Butt returns from injury. Freshman Freddy Canteen was the talk of spring camp and will enter fall camp at the top of the depth chart along with Funchess.
Junior A.J. Williams will hold down the tight end position until Butt returns, but after that, the depth chart is hazy.
Sophomores Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh have talent but not much experience. Junior Dennis Norfleet has been a star on special teams but a disappointment at receiver. Freshman Drake Harris might also get playing time if he can recover from a hamstring injury that occurred during spring practice. The injury is especially troublesome since he missed his high school senior season with a similar problem.
The position has a lot of questions compounded by the difficulty of a new offense being installed. There’s lots of pressure on Funchess to perform, especially early in the season. Don’t be surprised if incoming freshman Jabrill Peppers makes an appearance at this position as the season progresses.
Sophomores Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith will battle for carries. Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier prefers to balance the load among running backs, so both will get a chance show what they can do. Green’s 20-pound weight loss was the big story out of spring practice, but he and Smith are dead even heading into the season.
Junior Justice Hayes has been reinvigorated by Nussmeier’s changes on offense and is expected to see time as a third-down back.
Junior Joe Kerridge will be the fullback based on his ability to block.
With both Green and Smith capable of carrying the load, the position looks solid. Hayes ran like a man possessed in the Michigan spring game and will press them for carries.
Seniors Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer are solid at both end positions and should pressure opposing quarterbacks all season long. Sophomore Taco Charlton and junior Mario Ojemudia will rotate to rest Clark and Beyer.
The middle of the defensive line isn’t as experienced with sophomore Willie Henry and junior Ondre Pipkins expected to start. Sophomores Chris Wormley and Ryan Glasgow along with freshman Bryan Mone will compete as backups.
Hoke has said that success hinges on the winning the battle at line of the scrimmage, but any success will depend on growth at the tackle positions.
Seniors Desmond Morgan, Jake Ryan and junior James Ross will hold down the starting linebacker positions and could be the strength of the defense. The group will benefit from extra attention from defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who will overseeing linebackers this season.
Juniors Joe Bolden and Royce Jenkins-Stone along with sophomore Ben Gedeon will be competing as backups.
With questions in the middle of the defensive line, Jake Ryan, who is moving to middle linebacker, will need to be aggressive to stifle the run.
Senior Raymon Taylor, junior Blake Countess and sophomore Jourdan Lewis (nickelback) are expected to start at cornerback and for another solid position group on defense.
Lewis starred in the Michigan spring game and looks poised for a breakout season.
Senior Delonte Hollowell, sophomore Channing Stribling and freshman Brandon Watson will serve as backups.
If Countess can stay healthy this season and Lewis continues to shine, then this position group could be outstanding.
Senior Will Hagerup will handle punting duties while senior Matt Wile handles kickoffs and field goals
Michigan will need Hagerup to punt well, especially early in the season as the new offense finds its way.
Junior Dennis Norfleet will be primary return man for kicks, but expect sophomore Jourdan Lewis and freshman Jabrill Peppers to get opportunities.
Junior Jarrod Wilson and sophomore Delano Hill will start and be backed up by sophomores Jeremy Clark and Dymonte Thomas.
Wilson was solid last season, but Hill will need to prove himself as an everyday player. Clark and Thomas will need to show improvement or lose playing time to incoming freshman Jabrill Peppers.
Senior Devin Gardner is at the top of the depth chart by default, but questions linger about his status for the upcoming season.
Is he fully recovered from last season’s leg injury? Is he the best fit for offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s offense? Should his job be safe after last season’s disappointing fade from Big Ten title contention?
Sophomore Shane Morris didn’t set the world on the fire starting in Gardner’s place during the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, but the extra practice time helped him close the gap.
No. 78 Erik Magnuson
Last season the Michigan offensive line was abysmal. Now subtract its two best players, tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, and welcome to this season’s biggest headache for Brady Hoke.
Sophomores Erik Magnuson, Kyle Bosch, Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden along with junior Graham Glasgow are projected as starters, but no position is locked down.
Early enrollee Mason Cole made a strong impression during spring camp and freshmen David Dawson, Patrick Kugler and Blake Bars are all in the mix as backups or potential starters depending on their performance in fall camp.
Senior Joey Burzynski and junior Jack Miller are also possibilities to compete for playing time.
This position group is the biggest question mark heading into the season.
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.