Michigan Wolverines Football

Michigan Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2014 Preview and Predictions

Doug Nussmeier and Devin Gardner
Doug Nussmeier and Devin GardnerPhil Callihan/UMGoBlue.COM
Phil CallihanContributor IAugust 22, 2014

Brady Hoke heads into his fourth season in Michigan teetering between potential breakthrough success and epic failure.

His team is stocked with talented players—attracting recruits to Ann Arbor hasn’t been a problem. But his staff needs to prove that it can mold that talent into an elite team. Last season’s 7-6 collapse has placed the program under the microscope.

Under examination will be an offense that is being rebuilt to run the ball with an offensive line that struggled mightily last season. The team’s best hope for success will be for its defense to stem the tide until the offense can find its way.


Coaches

Hoke is 26-13 overall during his tenure at Michigan but 15-11 during the last two seasons. The Wolverines have dropped six out of their last eight games. Hoke and his staff need to produce this season to stop the murmurs of discontent in Ann Arbor.

No. 20 Drake Johnson, No. 98 Devin Gardner and Doug Nussmeier
No. 20 Drake Johnson, No. 98 Devin Gardner and Doug NussmeierPhil Callihan/UMGoBlue.COM

The slide led to offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier being hired with a mandate to fix the team’s running attack.

Nussmeier is working with longtime Michigan assistant Fred Jackson, who has mentored some of the best running backs in team history. With a stable of talented running backs, this season will be his chance to prove that he can still develop elite talent.

Offensive line coach Darrell Funk is under scrutiny after his position group struggled last season. The offensive line was one of team’s weakest position groups despite the presence of two eventual NFL draft picks (Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield). Funk needs to build a stronger line this season or the team will repeat last year's disappointment.

2014 Michigan Football Staff
TitleNameYears on Team
Head CoachBrady Hoke4
Defensive CoordinatorGreg Mattison4
Offensive Coordinator/QB CoachDoug Nussmeier1
Special Teams Coordinator/TE CoachDan Ferrigno4
Offensive Line CoachDarrell Funk4
Wide Receivers CoachJeff Hecklinski4
Running Backs CoachFred Jackson23
Safeties CoachCurt Mallory4
Cornerbacks CoachRoy Manning4
Defensive Line CoachMark Smith4
mgoblue.com

Hoke also shuffled his defensive staff. Coordinator Greg Mattison has taken over the linebackers, and the backfield duties have been split between Curt Mallory (safeties) and Roy Manning (cornerback). The backfield move was made to give the players more coaching attention to deal with the proliferation of spread offenses.

 

What to Watch For on Offense

One of the main problems last year was the inconsistency of the offensive line. Nine players rotated through the five offensive line positions, and Hoke has lost two of his most talented linemen to the NFL. Rebuilding the line is the biggest obstacle Michigan faces while trying to roll out its new offense.

The talk out of camp is that last year’s position group struggled with off-the-field distractions and a lack of senior leadership. This year’s group is more unified and hopes to be greatly improved with another year of game experience and weight training under its collective belt.

The key players to watch are center Jack Miller and tackle Mason Cole. Miller was over his head last season but has improved greatly, according to Hoke. Cole is a true freshman who has seized the starting position at left tackle. If either of these players struggle, it will speak volumes to the level of talent on the offensive line and lack of improvement over last season.

Michigan Football Offensive Depth Chart
Position1st String2nd String3rd String
QBDevin GardnerShane MorrisWilton Speight
RBDerrick GreenDe'Veon SmithDrake Johnson
WRDevin FunchessJehu ChessonJack Wangler
WRAmara DarbohDa'Mario JonesMaurice Ways
SlotFreddy CanteenDennis NorfleetBo Dever
TEA.J. WilliamsKeith HeitzmanKhalid Hill
OGErik MagnusonGraham GlasgowDavid Dawson
OGJoey BurzynskiKyle BoschBlake Bars
CJack MillerPatrick KuglerGraham Glasgow
OTBen BradenChris FoxLogan Tuley-Tillman
OTMason ColeKyle KalisDan Samuelson
FBJoe KerridgeXX
HBWyatt ShallmanXX
KickerWill HagerupMatt WileKenny Allen
PR/KRDennis NorfleetJehu ChessonJabrill Peppers
mgoblue.com

Nussmeier has simplified the playbook in an attempt to jump-start the running game.

Derrick Green (20 pounds lighter than last season) and De’Veon Smith have battled for the starting job all spring and throughout fall camp while being pressed by Drake Johnson and Justice Hayes. Transfer Ty Isaac is also waiting on word of his eligibility. The running game could be back in a big way—if the offensive line can open up some holes.

Doug Nussmeier, No. 87 Devin Funchess, No. 98 Devin Gardner
Doug Nussmeier, No. 87 Devin Funchess, No. 98 Devin GardnerPhil Callihan/UMGoBlue.COM

Quarterback Devin Gardner returns for his senior season while learning the third offensive scheme of his career. Gardner showed his toughness last season playing injured versus Ohio State but will need to show restraint in the new offense. Last season he was the offense. This year he’ll need to become more of a game manager, distributing the ball to his running backs and receivers.

Another huge question on offense is who will emerge in the receiving ranks. Wide receiver Devin Funchess will be Gardner’s top target, and freshman Freddy Canteen has also emerged as a starter. But the graduation of Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo along with the injury of tight end Jake Butt has depleted the number of experienced receivers available to Gardner.

There’s a huge opportunity for Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson or freshman Maurice Ways to fill the gap.

 

What to Watch For on Defense

The defense looks to improve after a lack of depth at key positions contributed to Michigan’s 1-4 November collapse last season.

Top linebacker Jake Ryan has been moved to the middle and should benefit, along with fellow linebackers Desmond Morgan and James Ross, from Mattison taking over the position group.

2014 Michigan Defensive Depth Chart
Position1st String2nd String3rd String
DTOndre PipkinsBryan MoneMaurice Hurst Jr.
DTWillie HenryChris WormleyRyan Glasgow
DEFrank ClarkTaco CharltonHenry Poggi
DEBrenne BeyerMario OjemudiaMatthew Godin
SAM LBJames RossRoyce Jenkins-StoneAllen Gant
MIKE LBJake RyanBen GedeonMike McCray
WILL LBDesmond MorganJoe BoldenMichael Ferns
CBBlake CountessJourdan LewisTerry Richardson
CBRaymon TaylorChanning StriblingDelonte Hollowell
SSDelano HillJeremy ClarkA.J. Pearson
FSJarrod WilsonDymonte ThomasShaun Austin
NickelJabrill PeppersJourdan LewisDelonte Hollowell
mgoblue.com

The defensive line is solid with Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer at the ends, and Ondre Pipkins and Willie Henry at the tackles. The team needs a solid season from backups Bryan Mone, Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton. The defense weakened last season when the line wore down as the season progressed. The ability for the backups to improve and pressure opposing offenses will be vital.

No. 5 Jabrill Peppers cover No. 17 Freddy Canteen
No. 5 Jabrill Peppers cover No. 17 Freddy CanteenPhil Callihan/UMGoBlue.COM

The most interesting position battle on defense will be in the backfield, where Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor are being tested by Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling and top recruit Jabrill Peppers for playing time. Peppers will start the season at nickel but will soon challenge the incumbents for time at corner.

At safety Delano Hill and Jarrod Wilson will be pressed by Dymonte Thomas and Jeremy Clark.

Overall the defense is expected to very good and possibly great if Peppers can fulfill his potential and the defensive line can consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks.


Injury News

The loss of Butt at tight end is a serious blow to an offense low on experienced receivers. His rehab is going well and his return is expected by the start of the Big Ten season. Until then A.J. Williams will need to fill in as a receiver and blocker supplementing the offensive line.

Michigan Football Injuries
Player NameInjuryExpected Return Date
Jake ButtACLMinnesota
Delano HillBroken JawNotre Dame
Press Conference Notes

Hill broke his jaw during summer drills, but the safety expected back by the start of the season. Don’t be surprised if he returns for the Notre Dame game.

X-Factor

Peppers is one of the most talented, explosive players on Michigan’s roster. Despite being a true freshman, he started fall camp at nickelback and has already begun getting reps at corner. He’s also been working at returning kicks.

Hoke has been tight-lipped about plans to use Peppers on offense, but it’s a tantalizing possibility. He’d be devastating coming out of the backfield.

Expect Peppers to be everywhere by midseason.


2014 Schedule

2014 Michigan Football Schedule
DateOpponentLocation
August 30Appalachian StateAnn, Arbor, MI
September 6Notre DameSouth Bend, IN
September 13Miami (OH)Ann Arbor, MI
September 20UtahAnn Arbor, MI
September 27MinnesotaAnn Arbor, MI
October 4RutgersPiscataway, N.J.
October 11Penn StateAnn Arbor, MI
October 18Bye
October 25Michigan StateEast Lansing, MI
November 1IndianaAnn Arbor, MI
November 8NorthwesternEvanston, IL
November 15Bye
November 22MarylandAnn Arbor, MI
November 29Ohio StateColumbus, OH
mgoblue.com


Make-or-Break Games

Michigan plays all of its key rivalry games on the road—Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State. Hoke’s track record versus these schools (4-5) coupled with the way his teams have struggled when leaving Ann Arbor (7-11) doesn’t bode well.

Countdown sign in Schembechler Hall
Countdown sign in Schembechler HallPhil Callihan/UMGoBlue.COM

There’s a lot riding on Michigan’s second game of the season versus Notre Dame. It’s the last time that these two storied programs are scheduled to meet, and Michigan would like to smack the Irish, who bailed out of future meetings.

The last time Michigan played at Notre Dame Stadium the Wolverine offense fell into a funk that torpedoed the entire season. It was also the beginning of a baffling two-year offensive stretch that would ultimately cost offensive coordinator Al Borges his job. A win could exorcise of a lot of demons.

The next key game is versus Michigan State in East Lansing (October 25), where Michigan has been completely dominated on its last two visits.

The Spartans will likely be heavily favored in this game. Hoke may deny that moral victories exist, but if his team can’t win, it needs to show that it can hang with its in-state nemesis. The hammer and nail aren’t rivals—and Michigan has been the nail when playing in East Lansing. Hoke needs to put a stop to it.

Sign outside Michigan's locker room
Sign outside Michigan's locker roomPhil Callihan/UMGoBlue.COM

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller’s season-ending shoulder injury makes the Buckeyes look less daunting, but head coach Urban Meyer will have all season long to groom a replacement. 

If Michigan could somehow sweep these games, the team would be a virtual lock to compete for its first Big Ten Championship under Hoke. If the unthinkable happens and Michigan loses all three, Hoke’s tenure in Ann Arbor will be in serious jeopardy.

 

New Uniforms

Michigan has announced special uniforms for its night game versus Penn State.

 

Prediction

If Michigan can beat Notre Dame it could go 9-3 this season. Unfortunately, two of its three losses will be to Michigan State and Ohio State, sinking any chance of playing in the Big Ten title game.

2014 Michigan Football Predictions 9-3 (5-3 Big Ten)
OpponentLocationResult
Appalachian StateAnn Arbor, MIW
Notre DameSouth Bend, INW
Miami (OH)Ann Arbor, MIW
UtahAnn Arbor, MIW
MinnesotaAnn Arbor, MIW
RutgersPiscataway, N.J.W
Penn StateAnn Arbor, MIW
Michigan StateEast Lansing, MIL
IndianaAnn Arbor, MIW
NorthwesternEvanston, ILL
MarylandAnn Arbor, MIW
Ohio StateColumbus, OHL
mgoblue.com

Most teams would be pleased with 9-3, but losses to two key rivals and no Big Ten title will cause a lot of heartburn in Ann Arbor.

Hoke promised the return of Michigan football when he was hired. He needs deliver on that promise or at the very least show significant progress this 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.

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