Michigan Football: 5 Biggest Offseason Goals for Wolverines
He attended Michigan’s home basketball game this weekend and took time for some photos in the student section.
Fans tweeted about meeting him and cheered their new head coach, but Harbaugh has a lot of work to do before next season begins. Both Ohio State and Michigan State are waiting to baptize the new coach into the Big Ten East— a division dominated by Michigan’s rivals. Both Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio have shrugged off questions about Harbaugh while Michigan fans are expecting fast results.
Here are Michigan’s top five offseason goals to start competing for a Big Ten championship.
All season statistics from mgoblue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department web site.
First on the agenda for Jim Harbaugh is to get out and make his presence known on the recruiting trail. With nearly a month between his arrival and Brady Hoke’s dismissal in Ann Arbor, Michigan’s recruiting class suffered.
Defensive line coach Greg Mattison will provide some continuity on the defensive front, but other assistant coaches will need to scramble to make connections with current commitments and identify talent to complete the class.
Prior to the Wolverines' late-season collapse, Michigan had a small but talented recruiting class. If Harbaugh can work his magic and get some of the decommitments back into the fold, Michigan will be in a good position for next season.
Bond with the Team
Harbaugh will need to establish a rapport with his new team, and his last job with San Francisco will help. Michigan’s current players were born after his Michigan playing career, but all are aware of his success in the NFL.
Harbaugh’s transition also will be eased by his friendship with Hoke and his decision to retain Mattison. Players will appreciate that he won’t be trashing the previous coaching staff.
Offensive lineman Jack Miller told MLive.com's Brendan F. Quinn that players were “looking forward to [working with Harbaugh].”
Energize Special Teams
Michigan will need to steal some games as Harbaugh rebuilds the team. Special teams is an area that needs to be improved—most importantly kick and punt returns.
Unfortunately, the most exciting thing about the Michigan return game last season was Norfleet’s dancing.
According to footballoutsiders.com, Michigan ranked 67th in the nation in special teams and a dismal 118th in field position after kick returns last season.
Brady Hoke tried to improve special teams by infusing a number of starters, but to no avail. Special teams depends on instilling a unique mentality, and Hoke was never able to find the right mix of players to be successful.
Harbaugh will need to identify his special teams players during the offseason to be ready when the games count.
Choose a Running Back
Harbaugh has three experienced running backs to choose from for next season. Juniors De’Veon Smith (108 carries for 536 yards and six touchdowns) and Derrick Green (82 carries for 488 yards and three touchdowns) entered last season at the top of the depth chart until an injury sidelined Green.
Also waiting in the wings is transfer sophomore Ty Isaac, who sat out last season. Drake Johnson (60 carries for 368 yards and four touchdowns), who came on strong at the end of the season, injured his ACL in the season finale versus Ohio State and won’t be available for spring practice.
New offensive coordinator Tim Drevno will work with Harbaugh to implement a bruising running attack, and one of these backs will lead the way.
Find a Quarterback
The biggest offseason challenge is to find a new quarterback. The previous regime under Hoke was sunk by its inability to develop the quarterback position, and nobody understands the importance of a reliable signal-caller more than Harbaugh.
He’ll need spring practice to evaluate freshman Alex Malzone, junior Shane Morris, senior Russell Bellomy and sophomore Wilton Speight.
Malzone is an early enrollee and believes that he’s the player that Harbaugh needs. Morris was the starter the last time Michigan made a bowl game but struggled with a concussion injury last season. Bellomy has been hampered by injuries during his career, and Speight made a good impression last spring but didn’t see any game action.
With no definite returning starter, the battle at quarterback will be wide open. Harbaugh will evaluate the current roster and maybe even bring in a recruit to compete if he identifies an intriguing talent.
Whomever he tags as starter will dictate how fast Michigan returns to national contention.
After watching Ohio State overcome two season-ending quarterback injuries while capturing a national championship, fans will have little patience if Harbaugh struggles to develop quarterback talent.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand.