In his annual introductory spring press conference, Michigan Wolverines’ head coach Jim Harbaugh provided those of us with speculative imaginations just enough insight to allow our minds to run wild with possibilities.
What will the offense look like with the addition of offensive coordinator Josh Gattis? Who will start at running back? Does the defense have more complex zone or combo-coverage schemes to utilize when strict man-to-man isn’t working? Not all of these were answered, but Jim Harbaugh did provide more information than usual.
Last year, Harbaugh mostly provided injury updates, leadership updates, teased the read-option offense, and much to the chagrin of Wolverines everywhere, stated the offensive play calling would be a “collaborative effort.”
Harbaugh spoke to the media for 31 minutes on Monday and the 2019 Michigan team is beginning to take shape. Reading between the lines, this is what I think we know about the team.
Shea Patterson is the starting quarterback full stop
Coach Harbaugh’s answers regarding Shea Patterson’s starting job were like a Sean McVay offense: a ton of window dressing and movement, but in the end it is still just 11 personnel. In the end, Patterson will be the starter.
Harbaugh said all the right things and stressed Patterson will not be able to kick his feet up and relax with Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton receiving equal reps this spring. However, this is all to sustain a competitive environment and eliminate any void to potentially be filled with complacency.
An ideal strategy with college athletes and the right move by Harbaugh to prevent any stagnation in Patterson’s development. But don’t get it twisted, Patterson will be the starting quarterback.
Ben Mason cuts the line
The staff wants Ben “Bench” Mason to play 60-70 snaps across offense and defense in 2019.
*stops, checks math*
We are going to see A LOT of Ben Mason on the defensive line next year. While Mason is expected to see action at tight end in addition to his 2017 featured position (fullback), the new offensive scheme and the staff’s desire to have Mason on the field insinuates he will be more of a defensive player than offensive player in 2019.
Harbaugh went on to say Bench will play three-technique defensive tackle and on the edge. With Michigan’s depth on the defensive line, who will see their playing time reduced? Whoever the starters will be should not be affected, but among Kwity Paye, Aidan Hutchinson, Josh Uche, Michael Dwumfour, Carlo Kemp, Mike Danna, Luiji Vilain, Donovan Jeter, Mazi Smith, Chris Hinton, David Ojabo, Taylor Upshaw, and Julius Welschof, someone will be the odd man out.
Mason’s heralded work ethic has allowed him to cut the line at several positions, and if you are allowed to cut the line on a D-line this talented, you earned it.
Inject Ben Mason chasing opposing quarterbacks like a GD madman into my veins.
Uncertainty on the right
Michigan’s offensive line is poised to be the best it has been in over a decade with four returning starters, five with starting experience, and Ed Warriner back for his second year. However, two positional battles on the right side of the line could improve the offensive line even further.
Harbaugh discussed the expected battle between Andrew Stueber and Jalen Mayfield at right tackle, which I fully expect Mayfield to win once he learns the nuance of the right side of the line.
Mayfield is no stranger to positional battles. Last season, he challenged eventual first team All-Big Ten left tackle Jon Runyan Jr. for the entire fall camp before ultimately settling into a backup role. Mayfield may not be the starter by April, but he will be by Aug. 31.
The quiet battle of Michael Onwenu and Stephen Spanellis is one I believe will gain momentum when fall camp rolls around, but could be discussed this spring. Onwenu is an experienced starter, but is very streaky on the field. Spanellis has seen action at center and guard, but has never been a full-time starter.
A classic potential vs. experience clash that will be decided by the narrowest of margins.
Harbaugh likes to play his cards close to the chest, so expect Onwenu to retain his starting role on experience, but unlike the quarterback position and Miguel, this position is far from a sure thing.
Josh Gattis’ offensive evolution
No more cyber ink needs to be spilled over this coaching addition, but let’s just touch on the latest key words spoken about Michigan’s new offensive coordinator:
“... more tempo... more attacking plays... more shots down the field...”
165 days until kick-off.