With the spring game only a few days away, there are lingering questions that still need to be answered about this Michigan team. Especially on the offensive side of the ball. Although the major question marks will be answered when the real games begin, the spring game, or otherwise a glorified practice, offers a glimpse into what this upcoming team has to offer... kind of.
This year's offense will feature plenty of youth, and will have to fill voids left by departing seniors Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo, Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield.
Here's a look at five offensive players to look out for at Saturday's spring game:
1.) Devin Gardner
The grizzled veteran on the offense, senior Devin Gardner is very likely to be named the starting quarterback to begin the season and has a chance to see the majority of the snaps with the first team offense. Considering Gardner is coming off a broken foot, there is a chance Gardner may not see any action at all. However, this shouldn't keep him from the list.
With Gardner's favorite target (Gallon) gone, it'll be interesting to see how he spreads the ball around to the younger and less-experienced receivers - save for one, who I will touch on later - on the roster. It'll also be of interest to see how Gardner incorporates the tight end position into his checkdowns with one of his favorite targets late last season, Jake Butt, out with a torn ACL.
Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has been on the record as saying that he wants Gardner to run less, which will save him for the fourth quarter. Considering how much Gardner ran last season due to the porous offensive line breaking down, a lot of that is pending on how well the line can contain. That aside, another thing to watch is how well Gardner can play in the pocket and avoid the dreaded happy feet that has plagued him in the past.
We won't see how Gardner has fully grown until after the season starts, but we will be able to see how Gardner commands yet another offensive scheme change under center.
2.) Devin Funchess
Primarily playing tight end last season, it appears that Funchess' transition is fully underway and fans will be able to see the junior in a more natural position for his body type. Considering the absence of Gallon as a home-run threat, Funchess showed flashes of that capability last year. Now going outside full-time for the 2014 season, those opportunities should increase ten-fold.
The spring game is a good opportunity to see how much of a relationship Funchess has been able to develop with his quarterbacks, Gardner in particular. Considering he spent almost the entire season catches passes from Gardner, Funchess saw a lot of targets last year and the chemistry between the two is quite good already. Although it's a glorified practice, it is worth looking into how the offense will run through Funchess. Considering he is the main receiver in this group, he is going to get a lot of looks.
With the work put in with winter conditioning and offseason drills, the new and improved Funchess could be a solid addition to the wide receiver group. If Funchess can work on his hands and moves to get open, his athleticism will take care of the rest. Funchess may just have that breakout year under Nussmeier's offense, and we get our first glimpse of that Saturday.
3.) Shane Morris
Although I mentioned Gardner and the possibility of him being named starting quarterback, Michigan saw last year that the back-up quarterback should always be ready to go. Wolverines finally saw a small sample of what Morris can bring to the table. On Saturday, fans can also get the opportunity to see how he has grown with a full year of conditioning under his belt.
This spring will show whether Morris has a command of the offense and is capable to lead it once his number is called. The normal assumption would be that he is ready, but the coaching staff feel it is not his time yet. However, there is nothing wrong with having a competent back-up ready to go when the time is right, which should be the biggest storyline for Morris heading into Saturday's practice.
Nussmeier has been known as a quarterback guru who has done a great job at mentoring quarterbacks into excellent collegiate players. It will be of interest to see, in the little time he has been on campus, how his teachings have worn off on Morris and how he has grown in an entirely new offensive scheme.
Competition is the most important thing at any competition and no one should be comfortable, that is exactly what the coaches want out of the quarterback position. Morris provides the added push for Gardner to perform up to expectations.
4.) Derrick Green/De'Veon Smith
Considering Michigan wants a downhill running style with two running backs, combining the returning sophomores as one unit was the logical choice. With both not offering as much as they would've liked to the running game last year, both are looking to improve in a new offense that is specifically catered to them.
One of the bigger story-lines is Green's weight. He now weighs less than he did when he first arrived on campus and should be in game shape once the season starts. Will this translate to a quicker, but more powerful runner? Only time will tell, but he is facing an advantage compared to last fall.
Smith is also ready to breakout and show that he is worth being mentioned as a solid choice in the running back staple. Although his production was limited a season ago, the spring game will show the fans how much Smith has grown and if he is capable of handling more than 10 carries a game.
Hoke and the coaching staff have given both Green and Smith sterling reviews of their spring performance. The biggest question still remains: Will the be able to provide the downhill and physical running style Nussmeier demands of his offense? That question will be partially answered this weekend.
5.) Freddy Canteen
Canteen is a bit of a dark-horse pick here. As an early enrollee this fall, Canteen has been making a splash with the coaches and players. By all accounts, he is having an excellent spring and could very well see some playing time this season if this keeps up.
Canteen is coming to Michigan at exactly the right time if an early opportunity to play is the number one priority for him. Outside of Funchess and Chesson, the wide receiver group is void of game experience and looking for players to step up the production lost last season.
Canteen has also had the advantage of having the tail-end of the winter to condition and study the Michigan offense as he early enrolled out of high school. That alone is incredibly crucial for a young player looking to build confidence in an offense, that could be a direct correlation to him having an excellent spring.
The spring game is the perfect opportunity for the fans to see whether the coaching staff's feelings of Canteen having a great spring are legitimate or a stretch, but methinks they're legitimate. Canteen should see plenty of reps at wide receiver on Saturday so seeing an early chemistry with his quarterbacks will be of importance. No one is expecting the next Braylon Edwards on the field, just someone who can be reliable in the group of receivers.