Michigan's Six Biggest Questions
A recruiting class has come in, half of it assembled on short notice. There's a new coaching staff, multiple position changes on defense, and a quarterback to replace. It's been a busy off-season for Michigan after that 5-7 debacle, and there are some important questions in the middle of all the overhaul.
6. Who takes over on special teams?
Both Will Hagerup and Matt Wile are gone, so there will be a wide-open battle through fall camp for kicking and punting duties. John Baxter has a good history at making dominant special teams, with his units at Southern Cal putting up some very impressive accomplishments during his four years there. He'll have some very good athletes to work with at Michigan, though perhaps not as many purely explosive ones as was on USC's roster. It will be interesting to see who he tabs for kick return duties.
5. Can the receivers get separation?
This position never really got touched by the magic hand of Brady Hoke's recruiting. Needless to say, his combination of possession receivers and a spread quarterback who wasn't comfortable with tight windows produced a pretty anemic aerial attack. The questions now are, how good can Amara Darboh get in his fourth year? Will Freddy Canteen and Mo Ways light it up? And how will Jedd Fisch use the eighth-year senior Dennis Norfleet?
4. What type of defense will Michigan run?
This is a question that will have a huge impact on Michigan's ability going forward. How will Michigan handle spread teams? How many defensive backs will be on the field? These questions impact both on-the-field results and recruiting for the 2016 class.
What we do know is that D.J. Durkin has plenty of linebackers to work with. Heck, Jake Ryan, All-World linebacker phenom, isn't on the team anymore and it doesn't even register as a question mark with regard to how the linebacking corps will fare. Desmond Morgan steps back into the middle linebacker position, where he'll be flanked by James Ross, Joe Bolden, Ben Gedeon, and whoever else the coaching staff can build up.
Here is where the transfer of Wayne Lyons from Stanford - which is reportedly in the works - is a boon for Michigan. Harbaugh will be able to get him on campus and fit him in somewhere to maximize his strengths, probably at nickel. Michigan has suffered from average to mediocre play in the secondary for a while, and there's still a lack of depth. Having someone like Lyons gives Durkin some more options and doesn't force anyone into playing out of position.
Brady Hoke got criticized for under-developing his talent, and rightfully so. However, there were quite a few success stories: Jake Ryan, former three-star recruit, Devin Funchess, former three-star recruit, the Glasgow brothers, Willie Henry. He had a better touch with the front seven and with three-star recruits than he did with any elite athletic talent. For every Jake Ryan, there was a four-star recruit who didn't reach their potential.
That has to change, and if it does, Jim Harbaugh will find himself with a whole lot of good players. Jim is the face of all this, but the fans will also be looking to all the position coaches. How will Greg Jackson do? John Baxter? Jay Harbaugh? Michael Zordich? What can they do with guys like Mike McCray, Delano Hill, Erik Magnuson, or Khalid Hill? How deep and talented can this team be?
2. Can the offensive line continue to grow?
The line made steps throughout the year, but it was a slow and painful process. Hopefully with a new position coach, some experience, and more depth, this line can really blossom and start taking over games. This part of the team, especially, is where guys never seemed to reach their potential. If the Wolverines' front can get it together and push around most of the Big Ten, winning at least 8 or 9 games will be somewhat easy.
1. Is the quarterback position in good shape?
Can it click for Shane Morris? Brady Hoke was certainly a bit of a problem for Morris' development, as the former gold-chip QB never settled into a rhythm or an equilibrium with the game. Sugar Shane has never thrown a touchdown pass, and turned the ball over far too often.
Can anyone else challenge him for the starting spot? How much did Speight grow in his redshirt year? Can Zach Gentry or Alex Malzone make an immediate impact? It's more likely that things click partway through the year, as whoever assumes the mantle will have some growing pains. Michigan's schedule is not overly kind over the first half, with an away game at Utah and a mid-October date with Little Brother. At worst, Michigan will continue its offensive nightmare, completely one-dimensional and unable to use its full playbook. But at best, this unit can play very, very well.
Hitting the Links Wants to Grow
What's The Encore for Ohio State's Defensive Line?
Thank goodness Michael Bennett is gone. I hated and respected that guy, with the pure tenacity and leadership he showed. He was amazing, and good riddance.
It still isn't official, but MGoBlog extends a hello and talks a little about what this means for Michigan in 2015.
Ralph Friedgen Steps Down at RU | Replaced by WR Coach
This is a big blow for a Rutgers squad that was getting nicely settled in. Friedgen took an embattled quarterback who had just lost his job for stretches the season before and turned him into a 2,800-yard passer. Best of luck to Ralph as he goes into semi-retirement. The new OC, by the way, is the brother of Josh McDaniels, the New England OC.
Boise State's offensive coordinator is headed to South Bend, a month after interviewing at Ohio State but choosing to not head to Columbus.
Key Position Battles for Michigan
Safety at least has some depth, while cornerback is a little more clear-cut in its starters and more nerve-wracking if anyone gets injured.
More Position Battles: Iowa | Maryland | Indiana | Illinois
Maryland suffered heavy losses this off-season, and they'll have to replace much of their front seven and several offensive weapons.
Michigan Recruiting Grades: Offense | Defense, Special Teams
This is also valuable for recapping Michigan's departures by position.
Want to know how Georgia State, Troy, and New Mexico State did? Well, neither does anyone else. But it's great to see the annual previews kick off again.
Sporting News' Top 50 Players for 2015
Four in the top seven are Buckeyes.
Days Since Michigan Beat Michigan State