Brady Hoke needs all the help he can get to put Michigan back on track.
He began this offseason by firing his friend Al Borges and hiring Doug Nussmeier from Alabama to fix the offense. Concerned that his seniors became entitled after attending the team’s annual leadership retreat with Navy SEALs last season, he canceled this spring’s trip according to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com.
Hoke is also dealing with injuries at key positions as Michigan tries to regain the momentum which evaporated during a crushing 1-4 end to last season’s Big Ten schedule. The schedule doesn't get any easier this season with his team facing both Michigan State and Ohio State—both on the road—in the newly formed Big Ten East Division.
Hoke will need these players back at full strength for Michigan to challenge its rivals for Big Ten supremacy.
Blake Countess, CB
Countess is recovering from surgery to repair a core injury from last season, as reported by Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. Countess has recovered enough to participate in the team’s annual Women’s Football Academy that raises funds for cancer research.
He previously missed the 2012 season after being injured in the season opener against Alabama, but is expected to be at full strength by fall camp.
Hoke is relying on Countess to lead a secondary that needs to pick up the slack while the defensive line rebuilds and Jake Ryan adjusts to the middle linebacker position.
Jake Butt, TE
When opponents locked down receivers Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess last season, Devin Gardner often found Jake Butt (20 receptions for 235 yards, two touchdowns) for the outlet pass.
With Gallon and Drew Dileo graduating (combined 105 receptions, 1574 yards and 11 touchdowns), Butt’s role in the offense was expected to grow next season until he injured his ACL during offseason conditioning.
Butt has tweeted that his rehab is going well and Hoke told Snyder of the Detroit Free Press that he expects Butt back by the third game of the season.
Butt is needed not only for his ability to catch passes but to help bolster the blocking of the offensive line.
Erik Magnuson, OL
The Michigan offensive line was epically bad last season. According to statistics compiled by Football Study Hall, the Wolverines were 118th in the nation—two spots behind Western Michigan and two spots ahead of Brady Hoke’s former team, San Diego State.
With the loss of tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, Magnuson was expected fill one of the open positions but was sidelined by a shoulder injury that forced him to miss spring practice.
With the off-field problems of Graham Glasgow already disrupting the retooling of the offensive line during spring practice, Hoke needs Magnuson to come back and be a steady contributor in both pass protection and run blocking.
Devin Gardner, QB
Gardner returned for spring practice but he needs to work on regaining his strength and conditioning after missing the bulk of offseason workouts rehabbing from a leg injury.
Gardner showed toughness playing through the injury against Ohio State, but he’ll need more than toughness to return Michigan to prominence. Gardner needs to show he has the skills to elevate the offense past last year’s level.
Sophomore Shane Morris filled in admirably during Gardner’s absence, but Hoke can’t afford to break in a new quarterback while also rolling out Nussmeier’s new offense. Gardner’s running ability might also prove itself useful as the offensive line rebuilds.
All season statistics from mgoblue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department web site.
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.