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Roundtable: Michigan Spring Football Is Here!

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The next best thing to fall football, and we still have summer ahead of us.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Nick: Hey, guys. With spring practice kicking off on the 24th (that’s today!), what are you looking forward to the most?

Jared: I am tempted to say that I am most excited to see what Harbaugh is able to do with one of his QB recruits, but we are probably still two years away from that. So for me, it has to be getting a look at the newbies.

We bring in the most exciting recruiting class in my lifetime and we are going to need to hit on most of them to keep pace with those other guys that reside down south. Specifically I want to see the new wide receiving corps and the young linebackers, you have to go back at least a decade to find anyone with that kind of athleticism at those positions.

Will: I’m most interested to assess Kareem Walker. The competition of spring practice should test his capacity to lead the backfield alongside Chris Evans. Like the rest of the fanbase, I’m starving for a back who can put fear in the hearts of defenders whenever he touches the ball (or at least force elite defenses to respect the run game). The last guy to do that was Denard. Wait. He wasn’t a running back?

Now, he’ll be doing this for the Wolverines:

Kullen: I’m most looking forward to seeing how the sophomores have progressed from last year and how the early-enrollee freshman are faring so far. This will arguably be Michigan’s youngest team ever and the development of these guys is crucial. I want to see how much weight Chris Evans has put on, how much faster and stronger Rashan Gary is and how good Donovan Peoples-Jones is already. I’m excited for all the new impact players we will see this season.

Von: There are so many choices I could put for my answer, but I am most interested to see how the offensive line plays, especially considering a lot of these guys are probably going to be new to starting on a consistent basis.

Mason Cole is more than likely going to be the starting center to begin the year, but other than that it is a huge question mark as to whom will start. You can make assumptions, but we just really do not know what it’s going to look like except for Cole. This group is going to ultimately make or break the 2017 season for the Wolverines, like it did last season, so I’m going to pay particular attention to them.

Andrew: I am most looking forward to the maize and blue back on the field! But from a critical standpoint, it would have to be the chemistry in the defensive backfield and among the offensive line. Every game will be decided in these two areas so this initial look will be pivotal in my personal overreactions moving forward.

Nick: Alright, let’s get to the nitty-gritty here, because spring football is all about depth charts. So how’s about this - I’ll tell you my best guess for the depth chart at every position, and you tell me where I’m wrong and who you’re bullish on. (Take it easy on me.)

  • QB: Wilton Speight, John O’Korn, Brandon Peters, Alex Malzone, Dylan McCaffrey
  • RB: Chris Evans, Kareem Walker, Ty Isaac, Karan Higdon, Kingston Davis, Drake Johnson*, O’Maury Samuels, Kurt Taylor
  • FB: Khalid Hill, Henry Poggi, Michael Hirsch, Nick Volk, Ben Mason**
  • WR: Kekoa Crawford, Eddie McDoom, Nate Johnson, Brad Hawkins
  • WR: Tarik Black, Nico Collins, Grant Perry*, Oliver Martin
  • WR: Donovan Peoples-Jones, Drake Harris, Maurice Ways
  • TE: Tyrone Wheatley, Ian Bunting, Sean McKeon, Zach Gentry, Nick Eubanks
  • LT: Grant Newsome***, Juwann Bushell-Beatty, Ja’Raymond Hall
  • LG: Ben Bredeson, Jon Runyan
  • C: Mason Cole, Cesar Ruiz, Patrick Kugler
  • RG: Michael Onwenu, Stephen Spanellis, Andrew Vastardis
  • RT: Chuck Filiaga, Nolan Ulizio, Andrew Stueber

*Shrug. I don’t know, man. **Harbaugh might keep Mason at LB for this year if Hill and Poggi stay healthy. But I think he’s a fullback long-term. ***If he’s healthy.

Let me pause before we hit the defense. Thoughts? This is definitely messier than the defensive side, and the wide receiver depth chart is a complete toss-up.

Will: There’s two players I think could move up your charts this spring, Nick. First, Karan Higdon. I don’t see much upside to Ty Isaac’s game. Great athlete, I just think he’s plateaued. Given enough looks, Higdon could insert himself as a primary backup to Evans alongside Walker. He runs hard and can make good cuts, but he needs more carries. Second, I like Eddie McDoom to evolve beyond his “McDoom is in, fellas, they’re going to run a sweep” role. He's arguably the most dangerous playmaker on the offense, so expect Michigan to get the ball in his hands a lot this spring.

Sadly, he’s not the Butt, and he’s not even close. Maybe soon, though.
Photo credit: Eric Upchurch, MGoBlog

As to a player I’m bullish on, I’ll take Ian Bunting. Most eyes are on Ty Wheatley to break out at tight end, but I think Bunting fills more of the void left by Jake Butt’s departure. There’s room for both to excel in an offense that features two ends, but I like Bunting to become a favorite target for Speight in the spring and fall.

Jared: This looks about right to me for an offensive depth chart. The wide receivers are anyone's guess at this point, but you have to assume Peoples-Jones is going to see the field. It always seems there is somebody at the position that comes out of nowhere, so I will (for no particular reason) predict that Brad Hawkins sees the field. His prep school film is very impressive and he looks college ready.

I would be ecstatic if Grant Newsome is our starting LT against Florida, but that seems like a long shot. To be honest, I will be pleasantly surprised if we even see him this season. The talk immediately following the injury was anything but promising, so getting him back on the field at all will be a huge boost.

I also agree with Will in that Ian Bunting will be option No. 1 at the tight end position. He has tremendous length and looked solid in the Orange Bowl when Butt went down.

Kullen: That looks pretty accurate to me. The only change I would make is putting Ruiz in the starting lineup. With him enrolling early, that’ll give him such a leg up on someone like Filliaga, who won’t be there until August. I think Ruiz starts at right guard or possibly even center with Filliaga filling in at tackle off the bench.

Von: Looks pretty good in my opinion. But I agree with Kullen that Ruiz could be a starter. If he starts, it’ll probably be a guard or center, but that would make Cole go somewhere else on the line, probably left tackle due to the Newsome injury.

I would also put Higdon ahead of Isaac, like Will said. Isaac has his moments, but I just love the way Higdon carries the ball with grit and authority. Because of experience, Evans will be the No. 1 guy at the start, but I would not be shocked to see Walker as the starter by the end of the year. I also would not be surprised to see Peters as the backup to Speight, as O’Korn looked unpoised and rattled all throughout the Indiana game (granted, it was his first start in several years, AND it was a freakin’ blizzard, but I digress.)

Andrew: Looks as accurate as possible, you may be a prophet. As with the rest, the running backs intrigue me the most. Samuels’ versatility out of the backfield leads me to believe he will find some unique role in this offense and as we all know, Harbaugh plays his hand as close to the chest as anyone. Would not be surprised to see Samuels play the role of Chris Evans from last year.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Nick: Okay, here’s the defensive depth charts:

  • SDE: Rashan Gary, Carlo Kemp, Corey Malone-Hatcher
  • 3T: Maurice Hurst, Lawrence Marshall, James Hudson III
  • NT: Bryan Mone, Michael Dwumfour, Aubrey Solomon
  • WDE: Chase Winovich, Ron Johnson, Luiji Vilain
  • SAM: Josh Metellus, Noah Furbush, Elysee Mbem-Bosse
  • MIKE: Mike McCray, Mike Wroblewski, Josh Uche, Drew Singleton
  • WILL: Devin Bush, Devin Gil, Jordan Anthony, Joshua Ross
  • SS: Jordan Glasgow, Jaylen Kelly-Powell
  • FS: Tyree Kinnel, Khaleke Hudson, J’Marick Woods
  • CB: Lavert Hill, Brandon Watson, Benjamin St-Juste
  • CB: David Long, Ambry Thomas

I think the overlap between Michigan’s three-linebacker look, with a Viper, and Michigan’s nickel and dime packages is an interesting and complicated one that I’ll try to duck around for right now. Needless to say, there are a lot of possibilities but also a lot of linebackers fighting for playing time. So I’ve put more traditional linebackers behind Metellus for the moment.

Anyway, your thoughts?

Jared: Jordan Glasgow starting at strong safety? Very interesting. I would never bet against a Glasgow however. The logjam at linebacker is very intriguing as there are a ton of guys that are probably going to see the field. I would not be surprised to see Carlo Kemp get some run at the SAM or MIKE as well. I love the three new guys at LB, but I am (somewhat) boldly predicting either Uche or Mbem-Bosse steps up and locks down the SAM.

I am as bullish as bullish gets about Khaleke Hudson. Most of that stems from him having one of the most absurd highlight films since Reggie Bush, but the dude is built like Ed Reed as a sophomore. That defensive backfield depth chart will actually cause me to lose sleep at night. Good thing Florida is not known for their passing game prowess.

*

Will: I see Kelly-Powell emerging as the starting strong safety at some point. He grew up as a coach’s kid, and by all reports, he’s ahead of the curve in his football knowledge. Couple this with his size and athleticism, and I see him as the future - as in, near future - of the strong safety spot. As I touched on last week, the four early enrollees in the defensive backfield should be an interesting storyline this spring.

Kullen: Glasgow was the only one I disagree with on this list. I see Hudson moving over to that spot and locking it down with his insane athleticism and motor. I love Metellus, McCray and Bush at the linebacker spots and think that could be a special trio and that defensive line could be even better than last year’s if Gary reaches his full potential.

The defense is very young, but insanely talented. They’ll be fun to watch next year.

Von: I see Solomon being the backup right away. The dude is a straight up beast, and I cannot see him being a third-stringer because of that reason.

I’m also in agreement with Kullen and Will on Khaleke Hudson. I could see him really emerging from his shell this season and being a very reliable defender. Jared described his game pretty well, so I don’t need to repeat that.

Andrew: Aubrey Solomon will have a bigger freshman impact than Rashan Gary last season (you heard it here first). I believe Solomon will quickly move up the depth chart to have valuable rotation time as a backup. The potential for diverse rushing packages given the game situation has me unbelievably excited.

My bullish pick is easily Ambry Thomas. Long is the safe pick to start at corner, but Thomas is a great talent that I have way too much stock invested for March. I truly believe he will already be a lockdown defensive weapon in 2018.

This is actually from August of last year, but it could have easily been from February:

Nick: What’s one position battle in particular that you’ll be fascinated to see?

Jared: There are so many to chose from, but I am going to break away from the norm on this one. I want to see Brandon Peters surpass O’ Korn and challenge Speight at QB. I know, I know, Speight and O’ Korn have a solid amount of experience between the two and Peters has exactly zero. We are now entering year 3 under Harbaugh and we have not seen him with one of his guys at quarterback. Hopefully Harbaugh sticks around for ten years and starts churning out professional quarterbacks like Hollywood churns out Fast and the Furious movies, but that is far from guaranteed. Brandon Peters and Dylan McAffery are the future at the position, I want to see them at least enter the conversation.

Will: OK, this isn’t really a position battle. But because he’s an early enrollee and perhaps a bit underrated (as a four-star?), I want to see if Cesar Ruiz can perform well enough at center to justify moving Mason Cole down the line. I’m confident Cole could win the position, but Ruiz doesn’t have to be better than Cole, just good enough to free him up to contribute elsewhere and make the entire line better.

Kullen: Wide receiver is the battle I am most excited for. I can’t remember the last time we had so much talent there and most of it is made up of freshman and sophomores. Peoples-Jones and Black could both start and I could see Collins and Martin getting serious time off the bench. And you can’t forget about Crawford and McDoom either. Both had good freshman seasons and are blazing fast.

What will be most interesting is to see if Harris can finally stay healthy and make a difference for this squad. This feels like his last chance to do so. Ways has a lot of talent as well. Speight developed chemistry with Darboh last off-season while Chesson was hurt and that led to Darboh being the No. 1 guy. If someone can step up this off-season and do something similar, they could be in the same spot.

Von: Running back. To me, these are the most entertaining position battles. Evans proved his elusiveness and flash last season, but we didn’t get to see a thing from Walker due to academic reasons. I am thrilled that he got is stuff at school together so he can finally get on the field. I really hope both these guys push each other hard in camp. Together, this could be a really nice two-headed monster. They both have a chance to be the starter. If I had to guess, I’d say Evans will start because of what I said earlier (experience), but we will see.

Andrew: I’m with Von. The running back position is loaded with an immense amount of talent and I want to see how it all shakes out. The question we all have is, “How good is Kareem Walker?” He took care of all his academic issues and now I can imagine he is hungrier than ever to prove himself. Captain America Chris Evans had an outstanding spring combine and seems poised to start; that combination is frightening. The rest of the depth chart is as equally exciting to me. Will we ever have resolution on Drake Johnson? Can Karan Higdon get some respect on his name? Can Taylor, Davis, or Samuels play spoiler? Will Ty Isaac run more plays than sweeps/ tosses? These questions may sound like the end to a Dragon Ball Z episode, but nonetheless, I am ecstatic for them to be answered.

Nick: Last question for you: give me a bold prediction for either spring football or one of the depth chart position battles taking place.

Jared: I already mentioned one bold prediction with Uche or Mbem-Bosse nabbing one of the LB spots. Hudson beating out Kinnel or Glasgow for reps at one of the safety positions is not exactly outlandish to suggest, and I could see that happening. I will go with James Hudson as a heavy year one contributor for my bold prediction. My dad coached him at Central Catholic in Toledo, and he essentially threw players around the field like they were a child’s play thing. They played against really strong competition the last two years and he physically dominated everyone I saw him go against. The dude is going to be a monster.

Will: I think Speight starts (bold, I know), but I expect Brandon Peters to leapfrog O’Korn as the backup QB by the end of spring. O’Korn really struggled against Indiana. Yes, there were a lot of factors at play and I don’t like to judge a guy on one game, but it’s not as if he lacked experience; he was a freshman starter at Houston. Shoot, he put up school record numbers for a freshman. So, yeah, I think his stock has dropped in a crowded stable of quarterbacks and Peters moves up a spot where he’ll be groomed to succeed Speight.

Kullen: While I’m tempted to go the Brandon Peters route, I’m going to disagree with Will. Speight is the one of the only returning starters you have on a young team and you can’t afford to sit him.

My bold prediction is that Nick Eubanks will be a big factor at tight end and push Wheatley and Bunting for the starting spot. He is almost the perfect mix of those guys because he can block and catch at a high level. Most people forgot about him in the monster recruiting class last year, but with Butt graduating and Asiasi transferring, this could be the opening he needed.

Von: Brandon Peters is the starter….

….just kidding, but that would be insane, right?

I think Solomon has a legitimate chance to start at some point this season. Bryan Mone and Maurice Hurst are good players, but Solomon can be great. So I guess my bold prediction is that halfway through the season, Solomon will replace one of those two guys as a starting DT.

Andrew: Kareem Walker starts opening day, just trust me.