Michigan Football Season Preview

After spending most of the last two months traveling around, I’m finally home for an extended period of time…well, two weeks anyways. I accepted a position to be the Video Coach for the Green Bay Gamblers and will be moving to Green Bay on September 14th. It should be a fun new experience and no, I will not become a Packers fan. I’m not sure what it means for this blog at the moment, but I’m guessing that after this post, a Lions season preview and a Red Wings preview, I won’t be able to post much.

Anyways, onto what you really came here for; Michigan Football. This is one of the few years where everyone is walking into the season blind regarding Michigan. There has been so little news and videos of practice because of Harbaugh’s Submarine that it’s really impossible to know for sure how players are developing and who will be on the two-deep. This season could go so many different ways. One thing I can say, is that even though the offense will be a huge question mark, the defense should be solid. Last year, they were ranked 7th giving up only 313.3 yards per game and they’re returning 7 starters. The defensive line and the linebackers will be the strength, even with losing Frank Clark, Jake Ryan and Bryan Mone to injury.

All in all, I’m going to trust this staff completely when it comes to recruiting, player development and who sees the most time on the field. They have a ton of NFL experience and know what needs to be done.

Offense

Michigan Depth Chart

I waited as long as possible for Harbaugh to release a depth chart so I can post something, it’s too bad that the game is on Thursday so there isn’t a ton of time to dissect and post this before the game.

Quarterback is the major question mark right now and Jim Harbaugh has done nothing (yet) to name a starter or indicate whether they might play both quarterbacks against Utah. Obviously, there is no advantage for Harbaugh to show his cards, but I’m willing to bet that Jake Rudock will be the starter. Shane Morris has the stronger arm, but Rudock is far more experienced and more accurate. Morris is also on his third offensive coordinator, so his development has been stifled to this point. If anyone could turn him around, it would be Jim Harbaugh, but obviously not enough has been publicized at this point to see how Morris has been developing or progressing. For my money, you go with the safer option out of the gate in Rudock and rely on your running game and defense to help out. Now listing Morris first would lead you to believe that he would be the starter, but I think it’s more of an alphabetical thing. I could be wrong though.

For what it’s worth, Shane said he should be the starter because “he’s ready.”

Running back has plenty of depth with De’Veon Smith and Ty Isaac seemingly to be the leaders in the clubhouse to get the most carries out of the gate. Derrick Green will definitely get his touches too and once Drake Johnson is back up to speed, I would expect a four-headed running attack. Green was running pretty well last year before he broke his collarbone so it would be hard for me to believe that he would lose a significant amount of carries. They will most definitely all get their shot unless someone gets in a rhythm and takes the reigns. If all four can combine for something like 2,000 yards then it would be a huge step, no matter which guy is getting the most yards. You might think that gaining that many yards is difficult given the fact these running backs had issues finding holes and would often run headlong into the offensive line…but I think with Tyrone Wheatley as the running back coach and Tim Drevno coaching up the offensive line, that everything will be on the rise in terms of production.

(Update: Pretty surprised to see Karan Higdon on the two-deep, but that means they probably aren’t going to redshirt him. He could get some touches, but with the four backs ahead of him, I wouldn’t expect much in the way of carries. It also could be a formality until Drake Johnson is cleared medically.)

Wide receiver is the other big question mark on the offense. Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson will be the two main returning starters with Devin Funchess gone. Freddy Canteen has moved to cornerback (it seems), and everyone has been raving about Grant Perry so far with his play in the slot. Not only that, Drake Harris seems to be finally healthy and he will be a huge difference maker if he can play. He may not have played a live football game in two years, but he’s a playmaker that this offense needs. Seeing Brian Cole on the depth chart is a little surprising, but it speaks to the lack of depth at the wide receiver position. He was a big time playmaker in high school and I’m guessing they do not want to wait to use his athleticism.

The offense is also going to need contributions from Jake Butt. It’s going to be very key to have a security blanket like Butt on the roster. There is a list of tight ends behind him that can contribute as well, but who knows who will play. Chase Winovich and Henry Poggi have recently moved to TE and then there is also AJ Williams, Khalid Hill, and Ian Bunting. Having six potential contributors at tight end (four for sure) will be big in terms of helping the offense. I would expect Winovich and Hill to play more of an H-Back role than a pure TE role as well. Whether it’s the run-game or catching passes, Michigan will need all hands on deck and Butt is going to have a big season. The only reason why I haven’t mentioned Tyrone Wheatley Jr. is it appears he may have gotten hurt during camp and I would expect him to redshirt with all of the options available. I’m also holding out hope that he moves to DE because of his size (6’6″ 270 lbs).

With 9 starters returning on offense and all five on the offensive line coming back, I have high hopes for them. They combined for 47 starts in 2014 and that is a lot of experience. Mason Cole was sturdy as a true freshman at left tackle and I can only expect him to grow and improve under Tim Drevno’s guidance. Ben Braden is a stout run blocking tackle that has been moved to guard and I would expect him to excel as well. Graham Glasgow was very good at center last year and I would expect more of the same from him, being the leader on that offensive line. Kyle Kalis was very up and down at guard and has been throughout his career, so he’s a little bit more of a question mark. He has the build to be dominant and hopefully he can find his groove. Erik Magnuson will shift back out from guard to his natural position at right tackle. He’s built perfectly for the position and I have faith that he’ll be able to play very well. David Dawson and Patrick Kugler will be the key backups in the interior and hopefully they will develop well enough this year to start next year.

Defense

Michigan Depth Chart

The defense is going to be very fun and very interesting to watch. DJ Durkin runs more of a 3-4 scheme, but with the current personnel and the injury to Bryan Mone, I would expect them to run a 4-3 hybrid with a sturdy mix of 3-4. It’s tough to know how the defensive line is going to look with all of the rotation and change of scheme that will happen on a play to play basis, but I’m guessing it will look something like this.

4-3 Alignment

  • SDE: Willie Henry, Taco Charlton
  • NT: Ryan Glasgow, Maurice Hurst Jr.
  • DT: Chris Wormley, Matt Godin
  • WDE: Mario Ojemudia, Lawrence Marshall

3-4 Alignment

  • DE: Willie Henry, Taco Charlton
  • DT: Ryan Glasgow, Maurice Hurst Jr.
  • DE: Chris Wormley, Matt Godin

In the 3-4, I would expect Ojemudia to step in as the BUCK and be the rush LB on the weakside. I would also imagine that Wormley will spend some time playing DE and his versatility will help out with the rotation. I have high expectations for Taco Charlton who did a good job when he was able to get on the field last year. Maurice Hurst, Ryan Glasgow and Matt Godin will be the three men that see the most time in the middle and they’re going to have to utilize their size and strength to close the gaps. Willie Henry is going to shift to DE, but I would expect him to get some snaps inside at DT as well. Henry showed good burst off the line last year and was able to get into the backfield on occasion with three sacks last season. Losing Bryan Mone hurts, but it definitely is not the end of the world. There is some depth on the line and changing schemes can help offset the loss.

Linebacker is going to be another strength for this team and I think they will rely heavily on the front seven to create pressure to help out the secondary. Durkin likes to use a lot of man coverage, so they’re going to have to attack the quarterback so the secondary doesn’t get picked apart. Having a starting trio of Joe Bolden, Desmond Morgan and James Ross is going to be huge. They’re all very experienced and it says a lot that Bolden was elected as one of the two captains. He’s been very steady since arriving on campus and aside from some blown coverage assignments, he had a pretty good season. Morgan and Bolden are both more of inside linebackers, which would fit perfectly in a 3-4 to let Ojemudia stand up and rush as the BUCK. I would expect Ben Gedeon and Royce Jenkins-Stone to be the two primary backups and like Taco, I expect some big things out of Gedeon. He was very good last year when he was on the field and I really think that he should have played more. Mike McCray is another young guy to keep an eye on as a redshirt sophomore and I liked the flashes he showed last year.

The secondary has a ton of talent but is another wildcard. Getting Wayne Lyons as a transfer is a huge help and should offset losing Blake Countess, though I would expect Lyons to play more safety than corner as the year progresses. I would also expect Jourdan Lewis to retain his starting spot (if he’s healthy) with Lyons, Channing Stribling or Jeremy Clark playing on the other side to start. This would leave Jarrod Wilson at his spot at strong safety (theoretically). Now you’re probably asking, why haven’t I mentioned Jabrill Peppers? I fully expect Peppers to play multiple positions. He’ll likely be the starter at free safety and then will slide to the nickel when the situation calls for it; more of a STAR role. It also would not shock me to see him starting opposite Lewis on the outside. He’s going to play a lot and a lot of different positions. In terms of depth, you have multiple guys working both sides of the ball, so Freddy Canteen, Brandon Watson, Terry Richardson could all get reps at corner. If they decide not to redshirt Tyree Kinnel, you can throw him onto that list as well. As for safety, I would expect Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas to be your backups, though Clark and Lyons can play safety as well. Again, there are a lot of talented players here, and a lot of ways they could choose to go in terms of personnel and positioning.

Special Teams

Michigan Depth Chart

Special teams are a total crapshoot. I honestly do not even know what to predict in terms of what to expect from the kickers or punters because the coaches have not even picked a kicker yet and they say they’re going to use both punters.

There are three possible kickers (including true freshman Andrew David), and your guess is as good as mine as to who it will be. Now as for returners, special teams coach John Baxter said this:

I would expect Peppers to be your starting punt returner and kick returner, but he may not do it full-time. You do not want to run him into the ground early on in the season. But as you can see, it’s really anybody’s guess at this point.

Freshmen To Watch

I honestly have no idea how this coaching staff will be in terms of trying to redshirt players. There are many freshman that could contribute on special teams or in a rotational role, but there are a few guys that I would expect to play a fair amount.

As I mentioned earlier, Grant Perry appears to be the starting slot receiver at the moment and I would expect him to contribute in a big way if that is possible. He’s a crisp route runner and that must have caught the coaches eye. Brian Cole is another freshman athlete that could contribute at wide receiver, but he’s an athlete and may contribute in other ways outside of just catching the football. Andrew David could be the starting kicker, but it’s between a trio of guys at the moment. He may not start now, but if there are some kicking woes, he could be forced into the role. Tyree Kinnel could play in the secondary if it comes down to it, but with the depth in the secondary, I’m not sure it would be worth it to blow his redshirt at the moment. Tyrone Wheatley was another candidate to contribute, but with his injury and the depth at TE, I would hold off any expectations of him seeing the field for the moment.

Some guys that could contribute but I don’t expect them to would be Karan Higdon, Reuben Jones, Shelton Johnson, and Keith Washington (RB, DE, DE, and CB respectively). Truly though, outside of Perry, I’m not sure many of the other freshman will fit into the two-deep and will likely redshirt.

Season Prediction

Date Opponent* Time PREDICTION
Sept. 3, 2015 at Utah 8:30 pm ET |  W
Sept. 12, 2015 Oregon State 12:00 pm ET |  W
Sept. 19, 2015 UNLV 12:00 pm ET |  W
Sept. 26, 2015 BYU TBA |  W
Oct. 3, 2015 at Maryland 8:00 pm ET |  W
Oct. 10, 2015 Northwestern 3:30 pm ET |  W
Oct. 17, 2015 Michigan State TBA |  L
Oct. 31, 2015 at Minnesota 8:00 pm ET |  W
Nov. 7, 2015 Rutgers TBA |  W
Nov. 14, 2015 at Indiana TBA |  
Nov. 21, 2015 at Penn State TBA |  L
Nov. 28, 2015 Ohio State TBA |  L

For me I think that 8-4 or 9-3 is a very reasonable record and I would be very, very happy. Add in a bowl win and they could even get to 10-3 for a best case scenario or a loss and an 8-5 worst case scenario. I think they have a pretty winnable schedule prior to Michigan State, with the exception of Utah, and their Big Ten slate is also pretty reasonable. If they win against Utah, it could give them some serious momentum and carry them until the Michigan State game. Again, this year is a wildcard year, anything could happen and anything at 8 wins or more should make Michigan fans ecstatic.

[Photo via: MLive]
[Photo via: The Student Section]
[Photo via: Zimbio]
[Photo via: MLive]

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One Response to Michigan Football Season Preview

  1. Pingback: The Daily Traub Revival: Michigan Roundup | The Daily Traub

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