The biggest storyline on the offensive side of the ball for the Michigan Wolverines heading in to year one of the Jim Harbaugh era is probably who will end up getting the starting nod at quarterback in the season opener at Utah, but what about the guys that the quarterbacks have to throw to?
While Michigan will likely look to go back to the roots of the program and lean on the hard-nosed running attack, the wide receivers and tight ends will still be vital to the performance of the unit overall and how balanced they will be able to be.
The depth chart at both wide receiver and tight end includes a ton of unproven commodities, but that does not mean there is not talent there. Brady Hoke and the former staff did not leave the cupboard bare, by any means.
Yesterday, we ran down the list of guys vying for playing time at both positions, but today it is time to name a few breakout candidates.
There is not one particular player at wide receiver that jumps off the page as someone who could go out there and put up the numbers of an all-conference performer, but there is a lot to like about what the Wolverines have at the position.
Guys like Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson and Freddy Canteen seem like the logical picks to be at the top of the depth chart, but someone to look out for is sophomore Moe Ways.
Ways redshirted last season and heads into 2015 at 6-4, 205 pounds. He is not a burner by any means, but he is a tall target that can make plays on the ball and adjust to make difficult catches. We saw glimpses of it last season during spring practice and in the open practice at Michigan Stadium prior to the season opener, but he needed to put on some weight to be a contributor. It appears he has done that and will only continue to get stronger.
The other candidate that could be poised for a splash is true freshman Brian Cole, who enrolled early in January and is already taking part in spring practices.
Cole was one of the more underrated prospects in the 2015 recruiting cycle and had a legitimate claim to be considered the top athlete in the Midwest. While he still could use some work as a route runner and catching the ball, the fact that he is already on campus and is rooming with fellow early enrollee Alex Malzone puts him ahead of the game than regular freshman. The Cole-to-Malzone connection is already being established. We will have to wait and see how that translates to the field.
The tight ends might be the single-most important skill position group in the Harbaugh offense. We have seen this over the years with how Coby Fleener and Zach Ertz were used by him at Stanford, as well as Vernon Davis with the San Francisco 49ers.
The tight ends provide a safety valve in the middle of the field for the quarterbacks when things break down or there is a mismatch. If healthy and ready to go, Michigan has a few guys on the roster that can help in the passing game nicely.
Obviously, Jake Butt is the first player that comes to mind when thinking of this position group, but he now has a bit of an injury history and there's a chance that could linger throughout the rest of his career, but nothing is for sure.
Ian Bunting could be in for a nice year after redshirting in his first year with the program in 2014. He is 6-7, 243 pounds, so he brings size to the position that few have on the roster, let alone in the country at the tight end position. The 2015 season could certainly be a breakout year for him if he progresses well in camp.
Depth is a bit of a concern at tight end, but not so much at wide receiver. Regardless, Harbaugh and the offensive staff should be able to squeeze a fair amount of production out of them. As was stated above, talent is not the issue. Inexperience is. The staff taking a "clean slate" approach to the roster and promoting competition will help to bring the best players out of the pack and have them at the top of the depth chart.