Quarterback Devin Gardner
Senior quarterback Devin Gardner returns to Michigan Stadium where his last appearance was a failed two-point conversion after a frantic fourth-quarter comeback loss versus archrival Ohio State. Gardner was injured during the game, which prevented him from playing in Michigan’s 31-14 loss in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. While he healed, Hoke scrapped his offense (and offensive coordinator Al Borges) and hired Doug Nussmeier to resurrect the Michigan running game.
This is Gardner’s first appearance at the controls of Nussmeier’s new offensive scheme. Last season he was the focal point of the offense, carrying the team on his back when plays broke down, which happened frequently behind a porous offensive line. Now, he’ll be challenged to complete enough passes downfield to open up the running lanes.
Hoke has talked about Gardner’s need to rely on this teammate to make big plays this season. If he faces pressure, will he stay within the confines of the new offense or revert to last year’s mode of pressing for the big play?
Center Jack Miller
Jack Miller started at center last year and struggled to secure the middle of the offensive line. He won the starting job for the opener by default after projected starter Graham Glasgow was suspended for the first game of the season after being arrested this spring.
Look for Appalachian State to shoot the gaps in front of Miller to disrupt the Michigan offense. It will be a good test to see how much Miller and the offensive line have improved over last season.
Running Back Derrick Green
Doug Nussmeier was brought in to reboot the Michigan running game, and Derrick Green has battled to the top of the depth chart, coming out on top over De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson. But he’s running behind an offensive line that’s replacing its two best players from last season and missing probable starter Graham Glasgow, who is suspended for the season opener.
Nussmeier has said that he’ll use multiple backs, and Smith and Green competed all fall camp to be the starter. If Green struggles, how long before we see a parade of possible replacements?
Defensive Back Jabrill Peppers
Fans have been waiting to see the top defensive recruit take the field since he committed to Michigan with the goal of being the next Charles Woodson.
He’s already the first-string nickelback and getting reps at cornerback. But news that he’ll be returning punts means he’ll have ample opportunity to electrify the Michigan Stadium crowd in his first game as a true freshman.
Peppers has convinced Hoke that he is ready for the spotlight. “Watching him over the course of that last 20-some days—practice, field punts, be in those situations—the confidence he has gives me confidence.”