We all know the Michigan Wolverines did not have the best season in 2017, but things are on the up and up and I truly believe 2018 will be better.
But before any of that can happen, a few impact players/positions need to improve greatly. The Wolverines struggled down the stretch, losing their final three games, all while having leads in the second half.
There were problems on each side of the ball that led to Michigan dropping those final three against Wisconsin, Ohio State and South Carolina. But to me, these five players/positions can help the Wolverines reach greater heights and not blow leads late in the game.
Whoever plays quarterback
Let’s just get straight to the point. The quarterback position last season was rough. From Wilton Speight overthrowing receivers early in the season, to John O’Korn’s lack of pocket awareness and happy feet, to Brandon Peters getting crushed on several occasions, one that concussed him until his lackluster bowl performance.
We all know what we are waiting for — the NCAA to let Shea Patterson play in 2018. But you know what? The Wolverines don’t even need Patterson this year. Would it be awesome if he played? Hell yes.
But the quarterback room at U-M is much better now than it was just a few months ago. It appears Michigan fans have a short-term memory when it comes to Peters’ game. He played very well in his debut against Rutgers, (yes, it was Rutgers, but to put a young quarterback in that situation in the middle of the game was risky) and he continued to play good ball until he got knocked out. His bowl game was rough, but who didn’t have a rough bowl game, honestly?
Waiting in the wings is Dylan McCaffrey, who I think has a ton of upside with his incredibly high football IQ and (somewhat) mobility. Behind him is true freshman Joe Milton, who has an absolute rocket for a right arm.
No matter who is the guy, just know that it will be better than Michigan’s No. 1 option from a year ago. I believe this because it is absolutely critical for Michigan’s 2018 season for the quarterback play to be better. A lot is riding on the next starting quarterback, and these guys are all competitors. I can’t wait to see this one play out.
Juwann Bushell-Beatty - Right Tackle
The offensive line, like the quarterback position, to say it nicely, had its ups and downs in 2017. One of the players that led to that was Bushell-Beatty.
JBB did not even begin the year in the lineup, having been beat out by Nolan Ulizio at the right tackle spot for the first five games of the year. But once he was given the green light to start the rest of the season, he did some pretty nice things.
Bushell-Beatty is a great run blocker; he proved that much last year. Where he needs to improve the most is protecting the quarterback, like most of Michigan’s offensive line. But the reason I single out JBB is because competition is heating up under new offensive line coach Ed Warinner.
It seems pretty well known where the offensive line sits right now — Ben Bredeson is at left guard, Cesar Ruiz is at center and Michael Onwenu (for now) is at right guard. The big question marks are the tackle spots, despite JBB being a fifth-year senior who started eight games last year.
Other guys like James Hudson, Chuck Filiaga and Jon Runyan are going to have a fair shot to earn the starting job. JBB will need to improve greatly if he is to fend off the competition and be Michigan’s starting right tackle for 2018.
Grant Perry - Wide Receiver
Perry is going to be under some heavy pressure to step up in 2018, because much like Bushell-Beatty’s situation, competition is knocking at the front door.
Redshirt freshman Oliver Martin was mentioned by Jim Harbaugh on his podcast last week, and Harbaugh said Martin “had made a big move up the depth chart.”
Martin redshirted last year, but now seems to be challenging Perry for a prominent role in the offense. The pressure is on now for Perry, a senior, to maintain his spot as the starting slot receiver and fend off the redshirt freshman.
It doesn’t help that Perry is currently injured right now, but there’s nothing he can do about that. Once he is able to practice come summer/fall, he will have his chance to prove that his great hands, shiftiness and experience mean more than the potential from Martin.
The weakest part of the defense last year for the Wolverines was clearly at the safety position.
Wisconsin’s game-winning touchdown was a pass to a receiver who was covered by Khaleke Hudson. Ohio State’s game-winner was on a run where Metellus could have wrapped him up, but whiffed. South Carolina’s go-ahead touchdown was on a pass where the slot receiver badly beat Tyree Kinnel on a nice fake to the inside.
Shall I go on? I think you get the point.
I understand some of their struggles came due to Don Brown’s blitz-heavy scheme, but the safeties still have to be able to cover one-on-one in most situations. We know what we’re going to get from Brown’s defense, so the safeties will definitely have to play better moving forward for Michigan’s defense to not break as easily late in games.
Brad Robbins - Punter
Walk-on Will Hart was Michigan’s punter for the first three games of the year. But after poor play from the position, Harbaugh elected to give Robbins a shot.
Well, he didn’t do much better. Robbins averaged 40.4 yards per punt, which was 83rd out of 107 eligible punters in 2017.
Besides Quinn Nordin’s monster game against Florida, Michigan’s special teams play was disastrous in the beginning part of the season. The return game progressively got better with Donovan Peoples-Jones and Ambry Thomas, but then Nordin began to struggle and Robbins continued his.
It wasn’t a pretty ride for special teams last year at Michigan, and Robbins is a big part of that. He will certainly need to get better for Michigan to improve in 2018.
Your turn. What do you think? Who are some players you think need to improve the most for Michigan to have a successful 2018 season? Sound off in the comments below.