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How Jim Harbaugh is using the ‘Michigan Method’ is determine the depth chart

Michigan coaches are using a familiar process of deciding who’s going to start at edge and OL.

Vrbo Fiesta Bowl - Michigan v TCU Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Jim Harbaugh found a much more on brand and less biblical approach to defining how the competitions for starting spots at offensive tackle, center and edge rusher will be decided this year — the Michigan Method.

In 2022, he employed this process to determine Michigan’s starting quarterback, a battle between the 2021 starter in Cade McNamara who led the Wolverines to their first Big Ten title since 2004, and the talented underclassman in J.J. McCarthy who many fans viewed as the quarterback with the higher ceiling.

Back then, Harbaugh likened this competition to the biblical story of Solomon, but on Tuesday to the media, he showed a little more ownership for the process he’s not only seen replicated by other programs, but also on his own squad this year.

“Yes, I read that another team was doing that for their quarterbacks. Michigan Method. I liked it. I like the way that sounded,” Harbaugh said when asked about the term.

Last season, this shaped out with McNamara starting Week 1, McCarthy starting the next week, and McCarthy starting every game after that after outplaying McNamara. Harbaugh said we could see similar situations in the offensive tackle, center and edge rusher groups this year.

“Who plays? Who gets to start? You know — the best players. How do you know who the best player is? They play the best,” Harbaugh said.

It seems Harbaugh isn’t looking to answer that question fully in fall camp, saying he predicts the competition for starting tackles between returners Karsen Barnhart and Trente Jones, and transfers Myles Hinton and LaDarius Henderson will carry over into the first two games of the season.

“They’re all right there playing at a super high starter level, and I predict it will go into the first and second game to find out exactly who the starters will be,” he said.

Harbaugh will have to choose between graduate transfer Drake Nugent and returning junior Greg Crippen for this year’s starting center. Crippen has been patient after learning under Andrew Vastardis his freshman season and giving way to Olu Oluwatimi last year. Nugent is already being described as an “angry pitbull” by some of his fellow linemen, making this seem like a win-win no matter who’s snapping the ball.

Lastly, the edge rusher position. Jesse Minter already talked about utilizing a rotation, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t going to be a competition to be the first on the field. Braiden McGregor and Derrick Moore are the bigger bodies competing for strong-side pass rusher responsibilities, while you’ll see Jaylen Harrell and Josiah Stewart going head-to-head for the SAM linebacker role.

Harbaugh didn’t elaborate much on who is the best in this group — which makes sense if their playing time correlates to the type of scheme Minter decides to run — but he did mention third-year player TJ Guy as another guy who could make his way into the rotation.

“Braiden, Derrick Moore, that bigger edge, that ‘rush’ we call them, and they both of them have been fit in the bill in that regard. And Josiah Stewart like Jaylen, he’s that SAM type of player. Real athletic bend around the corner, go get the quarterback,” Harbaugh said.

One of my biggest takeaways from Harbaugh going back to the well with the Michigan Method is the Wolverines have the luxury to be able to do this in the first place, and they likely won’t be able to do it again for some time. The Wolverines faced scrutiny for their strength of schedule to start 2022, and they’re expected to draw some criticism this year, too. Even though Harbaugh responded to these comments by saying, “You play who’s on the schedule,” that doesn’t mean they’re empty wins.

Harbaugh is using these early games like an NFL team would use their preseason games. These lighter opponents give Michigan a margin of error to test out different schemes, player packages and, yes, the Michigan Method.

Don’t expect Harbaugh to experiment with his lineups past Week 1 of the next two seasons, when Michigan plays a home-and-home against the Texas Longhorns. But for this year, we can expect a heavy dose of rotation to determine how the depth chart falls moving forward.

Do you think the Michigan Method will ultimately help or hurt the Wolverines in 2023? Let me know in the comments.