10 Biggest Goals for Michigan in the 2017 Offseason

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2017

10 Biggest Goals for Michigan in the 2017 Offseason

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    The Michigan Wolverines enter the 2017 offseason with championship hopes but an exhausting to-do list.

    From schematic tweaks to massive personnel turnover, the Wolverines are dealing with enormous changes on the roster. Each positional group has a clear goal for the summer.

    Jim Harbaugh and his staff have recruited well, though it's only a guess if there are enough ready-made solutions to the problems. The young talent is promising, but many of those players are moving from deep reserve roles directly to the starting lineup.

    While we must wait until September to see if Michigan is prepared for the challenge, Harbaugh and Co. will be addressing those concerns throughout the offseason.

Recruit, Recruit, Recruit

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    In mid-May last year, Michigan had 12 commits. Nine of the prospects eventually signed with the program.

    Recruiting is not consistent on a year-to-year basis, nor is it easily predictable. High school seniors don't follow similar timelines just because they're all approximately the same age. That's the long way of saying nobody is panicking.

    Still, after a verbal commitment from local 4-star Aidan Hutchinson, the Wolverines only have three pledges for the 2018 class.

    Harbaugh and the coaching staff will be scouring the trail throughout the summer, and it's a certainty they'll add a couple of commits. The question is how many and how soon?

Fine-Tune QB Chemistry and Timing

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    Wilton Speight outperformed expectations in 2016, progressing from a distributor to an occasional playmaker. However, accuracy issues flared throughout the year and partly cost Michigan a chance to win the Big Ten.

    Heading into 2017, Speight is the unquestioned starter. What surrounds him, though, will be almost entirely new.

    The ultimate test of a quarterback's ability is how he responds to being the most experienced player on the offense. Depending on the result of Grant Perry's legal proceedings, the Wolverines may not return a player with 10 career receptions.

    Speight was one throw away from beating both Iowa and Ohio State. When buoyed by the defense, he was a championship-caliber quarterback. Now, can he carry the team? It starts with establishing the all-important connections this offseason.

Standout Running Back Emerges

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    Chris Evans, Karan Higdon and Ty Isaac tallied at least 400 yards and four touchdowns last season, which is superb. On paper, it appears the Wolverines can seamlessly overcome the loss of three-time leading rusher De'Veon Smith.

    But last summer, Smith was the No. 1 choice by default. He ended up being solid yet unspectacular in 2016, as expected.

    Although Evans has the skill set to become an explosive featured back, those are just words until he makes it happen. Higdon, Isaac and Kareem Walker will also compete for the starting job.

    Running-back-by-committee is fine, but it's far better to know exactly where the production is coming from every week.

    Note: According to Land of 10's Rachel Lenzi, Harbaugh is uncertain whether Drake Johnson will receive a sixth year of eligibility. At best, however, he'd be a rotational piece.

Bring the Receivers Along Quickly

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    Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson are headed to the NFL. Grant Perry is suspended indefinitely. If he's not reinstated, Michigan must replace 88.2 percent of its catches by wide receivers, 91.4 percent of the yards and 90.9 percent of the touchdowns.

    That's quite a bit, huh?

    Mo Ways and Drake Harris are the veterans of the group, but they weren't larger factors than true freshmen Eddie McDoom or Kekoa Crawford last season. That's relatively promising for the latter two, though McDoom was primarily used on jet sweeps, while Crawford spent most of his snaps blocking.

    Michigan focused on the position in the 2017 recruiting class, adding 5-star Donovan Peoples-Jones and 4-stars Tarik Black, Nico Collins and Oliver Martin, plus 2016 commit Brad Hawkins.

    Got the talent? Check. But that potential needs to become production, and the Wolverines need it now.

Adjust to Pep Hamilton's Tweaks

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    Not only must Michigan revamp the receiving corps, the offense might be filling additional spots beyond the vacated places by Darboh, Chesson, Jake Butt and potentially Perry.

    During an interview with AL.com's Drew Champlin, Collins said Harbaugh told him the Wolverines will run more spread looks. Plus, the offense has a new passing game coordinator in Pep Hamilton, who former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Matt Hasselbeck praised for his creativity.

    "Pep's a guy, he's very proud of (saying) there's nothing we can't do," Hasselbeck said, per Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. "This week, the best thing to do is go five wide receivers, no running backs, no tight ends, that's what we'll do. If, the next week, we'll go two tailbacks, no receivers and bring in extra offensive linemen, that's what we're going to do."

    With an O-line in flux, a quick-hitting passing attack might be Michigan's best option. Still, transitioning from the pro-style offense won't be easily done with a new receiving corps.

Finalize the Offensive Line

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    Three starters—Ben Braden, Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnusonused up their eligibility, and Grant Newsome's availability is a question mark. The offensive line is going to have a different look.

    Mason Cole will start. It could be anywhere up front, but left tackle and center are the most likely options. That decision may depend on two independent variables.

    First, Newsome is recovering from a leg injury that kept him in the hospital for more than a month. Per Lenzi, Harbaugh said he's optimistic Newsome will play again. But does that mean in 2017?

    And secondly, 4-star recruit Cesar Ruiz enrolled early and is the center of the future. Michigan won't hesitate to use Ruiz as the center of the present if he's ready.

    Ben Bredeson is penciled in as a starter, and Michael Onwenu played very well during his limited snaps as a freshman. Juwann Bushell-Beatty was a rotational piece throughout 2016 and will probably join the starting five, though he wasn't great.

    Assuming no departures, Patrick Kugler, Nolan Ulizio, Jon Runyan and incoming freshman Chuck Filiaga will join Bushell-Beatty in the conversation. Michigan needs at least two—and preferably three—of them to stand out.

Settle the Defensive Front

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    Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley and Ryan Glasgow are each likely to hear their names called in the NFL draft, and top reserve Matt Godin graduated. Michigan must replace an impressive collection of players on the defensive line.

    Fortunately for the Wolverines, Maurice Hurst elected to return for his senior season. During his last two years as a rotational player, Hurst's performance has suggested he'll become a dominant player in a full-time spot.

    Chase Winovich also impressed on the edge in a relatively limited role, and Bryan Mone played well when he was healthy. Ideally, they'll both start in 2017.

    Should that happen, rising star Rashan Gary will shift outside. While he could play—and excel—at defensive tackle, but Michigan needs to get its best four linemen on the field.

    The lingering question is depth. If healthy, those four can handle a majority of the snaps, but the second unit is far from settled.

Figure out the Linebacker Situation

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    Jabrill Peppers' versatility allowed Michigan to field an elite defense despite lacking depth at linebacker. The unsung hero of the group was Ben Gedeon, a steady run-stopper in the middle.

    Both players are gone, so only Mike McCray has significant experience—though he'd be best suited to shift inside and replace Gedeon.

    Devin Bush Jr. would be the clear favorite to occupy McCray's weak-side spot, but the Wolverines don't have an obvious replacement for Peppers. Josh Metellus started there in the Orange Bowl, and Noah Furbush is the other candidate. Special teams ace Jordan Glasgow might also have a chance to crack the lineup.

    But, like other positions, depth is based on nothing more than potential. Michigan signed a trio of 4-stars in Drew Singleton, Jordan Anthony and Josh Ross, adding them to a returning bunch that includes Elysee Mbem-Bosse, Devin Gil and Josh Uche.

    The talent is there. Who will demand playing time?

Rapidly Reload the Secondary

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    While the front seven has concerns, the combination of four experienced depth pieces and a returning starter offers hope.

    The same cannot be said for the secondary. No, that's a complete rebuild.

    Again, yes, the broken record points to promising youth with limited previous in-game reps. Yet just because it's repetitive doesn't mean it's not true. Michigan lost Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling, Delano Hill, Dymonte Thomas and Jeremy Clark.

    Tyree Kinnel and Brandon Watson claim the most experience (not a ton), while Lavert Hill, Khaleke Hudson and David Long occasionallyvery occasionallyentered the game as freshmen. And suddenly, those five are probably going to start in 2017.

    Keith Washington and freshmen Benjamin St-Juste, Ambry Thomas, Jaylen Kelly-Powell and J'Marick Woods figure to round out the rotation. Not the roster, the rotation.

    Good thing Harbaugh has two coaches for the secondary, because this youth has no choice but to play immediately.

Avoid Major Injuries

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    Injuries happen. They're simply a part of the violent game. But ideally a team avoids any roster-changing issues.

    Michigan advanced through the 2016 summer relatively unscathed, though the bizarre forklift incident kept Johnson on the sideline last year. While other reserves were dinged up, the prominent injuries (Clark, Speight, etc.) didn't happen until the season kicked off.

    Considering the staggering lack of returning production and experience, however, the Wolverines cannot afford to be without Speight, Cole, Bredeson, Gary and Hurst, among a few others.

    But it's only a few others.

    The Wolverines have championship talent, and a national crown is the biggest goal for the 2017 squad. But they need their leading returners and expected starters to endure the offseason first.

    All recruiting information via Scout. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.


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