Not to sound like Tony D’Amato, but every player has something to prove in every season, in every game and on every play. But some have more to prove than others — some are transfers proving they can make it at the highest level; some are fallen stars who became victims of injuries and depth charts. Some are just stars who are looking to ascend greatness and achieve the legend.
You have heard it on playgrounds, from siblings, spouses, and maybe even courtrooms (I’m not here to judge). But in the case of these players, proving it, is something that could change the season for Michigan.
Mike Danna — “The Transfer”
Barely a 3-star recruit, the Warren, Michigan, product has always had a chip on his shoulder, and 2019 will be no different.
Danna was outrageously productive last season en route to being named a First-Team All-MAC player.
The Wolverine's newest addition, Mike Danna brings a ton of production and talent to the Michigan defensive line. pic.twitter.com/tCLhoVcqCP— PFF College (@PFF_College) April 29, 2019
Even better news for Wolverine fans is Danna has increased production in solo tackles, assisted tackles, total tackles, tackles-for-loss and sacks every year at Central Michigan. More impressively, he increased production last year despite playing one fewer game than the year prior.
But that was against Group of Five competition. Now he enters the Big Ten.
In his three years at CMU, Danna only faced five Power 5 schools: Kansas (2), Kentucky, Syracuse, Boston College and Michigan State. Danna will surpass that number before Halloween this season.
Can Danna compete at the highest level of college football week in and week out?
Tarik Black — “The Forgotten”
Remember these days?
“TOUCHDOWN BY THE SUPER FROSH!”
In Week 1 of 2017, Black recorded 2 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. In that moment, no one would have believed it’d be his lone touchdown entering his junior season.
However, due to injuries, Black has yet to find the end zone and has only recorded 13 catches for 101 yards since that season opener.
Everything about Black’s trajectory is more sad than disappointing, but his Michigan career is not finished.
Despite battling constant lower body injuries, the Connecticut native has persevered and could be in for a busy season within the Josh Gattis offense. But Black also plays at one of the deepest positions at Michigan and is presumably behind at least Nico Collins and Donovan Peoples-Jones entering 2019.
Can Black overcome his injury plagued past and the talented depth chart?
Luiji Vilain / Donovan Jeter — “The Injured”
The dozens of Vilain truthers remain at large clamoring about how good he looks and how this is his season despite accruing zero tackles in his first two seasons due to injuries.
Jeter feels like he has been a Wolverine for the last 10 years, but his stat sheet reflects that of a lower tier underclassmen who only appears in garbage time: three games played since 2017 with three tackles.
Vilain was the fifth-rated weak side defensive end in the entire 2017 class and Jeter was the 12th-rated strong side defensive end before converting to defensive tackle.
Both players have the talent, but can they stay healthy for one game? Six? Twelve? Fifteen?
Jeter will have a chance to compete with Carlo Kemp and another oft-injured defensive linemen, Michael Dwumfour, for starting responsibilities. The departures of Aubrey Solomon, Lawrence Marshall and Bryan Mone have opened up space, but incoming freshmen Mazi Smith, Chris Hinton, and the positional switch of Ben Mason, quickly creates a log jam of inexperienced talent on the defensive interior.
Vilain will also benefit from departures (Chase Winovich, Rashan Gary), but Aidan Hutchinson usurped him last season during his time off the field. Earning a starting position will be difficult; earning playing time at defensive end will be difficult.
With incoming David Ojabo, the aforementioned Danna transfer, potential of Josh Uche splitting time between defensive end and linebacker, and the fact redshirt freshman Julius Welshcof is now bigger than the Berlin Wall, the defensive end position is murky behind presumptive starters Kwity Paye and Hutchinson.
This list could include Shea Patterson (underwhelming, yet efficient 2018), Hutchinson/Paye (replacing Winovich and Gary), Josh Ross (replacing Devin Bush), and a long list of others. Gattis introducing a contemporary offense could even make the list if you qualify coaches for the discussion.
All around, this is a “prove it to me” team of players and coaches. Prove you can beat rivals. Prove you can close out a season. Prove you can win the Big Ten.
Who are your three players and/or coaches with the most to prove in 2019? Sound off below.