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Michigan’s biggest offensive questions at each position after spring football

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There is a lot to sort out here.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

A year ago, the Michigan Wolverines were a train wreck offensively. The quarterbacks struggled, the offense was incredibly inefficient at moving the ball, and injuries stymied any progress the team could make. The offense has a lot of issues to solve if they want to bring success in 2021, and some big shifts in the coaching staff will hopefully begin some considerable and necessary changes. With all of that in mind, we have some questions that need to be answered for there to be hope for the team this fall.

Here are the biggest ones remaining at each position:

Quarterback: Will J.J. McCarthy win the starting job?

It is by far the question that everyone wants to be answered. The true freshman comes in highly recruited at a position that continues to be depleted by the transfer market. Both Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton were fighting for the starting job a year ago. Now, neither are with the program and Jim Harbaugh is back to square one yet again.

The only notable returner in the quarterback room is Cade McNamara. McNamara showed flashes of starting-level potential last season, but every evaluation of him is under a microscope due to a lack of sample size. Texas Tech transfer Alan Bowman is going to be in the conversation as well when he arrives for fall camp.

Can McCarthy earn the starting gig over two guys with more experience? Some fans yearn for it as the former five-star recruit will hopefully be in Ann Arbor for awhile and will have time to develop.

Running Back: How will the carries be split, and could it cause another top talent to transfer?

Zach Charbonnet broke the freshman record for touchdowns in his first season in Ann Arbor after being a highly sought-after high school player. In year two, he had 19 carries across a five-game span with little explanation from the coaching staff as to why.

One of the reasons would be the solid season Hassan Haskins wound up having in 2021 as the team’s leading rusher. Blake Corum was also in on several different packages a year ago and had the second-most carries at the position with 26, but he averaged only 3 yards per attempt. That was half the amount of Haskins, and Haskins had over double the carries.

Now, incoming freshman Donovan Edwards is earning a bunch of hype. An in-state Top-100 recruit is always going to garner attention, but teammates are already praising the talent he has and you have to think the coaches are taking notice too.

With Mike Hart taking over as the coach of the position, could any of these guys get the Charbonnet treatment this season? It sounds like the running back room is going to be just as crowded this year and if any of the guys feel slighted by their touches, expect some more talented players to be on the way out.

Wide Receiver: Who will be WR2?

There is a top-dog in the wide receiver room as Ronnie Bell has led the team in receptions and receiving yards throughout the last two seasons. As a senior, he will likely claim that throne again.

Behind him, there is a lot of talent just waiting to get the chance to show what they are made of. Cornelius Johnson was second on the team in receiving yards a year ago, so he could be the favorite to leap in year three.

However, there will be some challenges. Roman Wilson had considerable playing time as a freshman, Mike Sainristil is waiting to pop, A.J. Henning perfectly fits into the Speed in Space mold, and freshman Xavier Worthy should push for some playing time too.

If any quarterback can find a way to spread the love, he should have a lot of weapons to play with this fall.

Tight End: Can Erick All get over the drops?

Erick All had a considerable amount of dropped passes a year ago. Still, Jim Harbaugh told the ESPN crew before the Minnesota game that he believes All could be the best tight end he has ever had at Michigan. That’s some loud praise for a team that boasts plenty of talent at the position that has made it to the next level. It starts with him catching the football when it comes his way. If he can make the most of those opportunities, he’s going to have a chance to fulfill the destiny that Harbaugh set before him.

Offensive Line: Does seniority mean success?

Michigan could potentially have an upperclassman-laden starting lineup this fall, though things are far from set. This is what the “most experienced” group would look like.

  • LT: Senior Ryan Hayes
  • LG: Redshirt senior Chuck Filiaga
  • C: Sixth-year Andrew Vastardis
  • RG: Redshirt Senior Andrew Stueber
  • RT: Grad-transfer Willie Allen

The commonality here is that each player is a senior or older. But, does that foster success on the field, though?

Several of these guys played in 2020 and the offensive line was far from the best attribute on the team. This is partly because of an injury bug striking a few times throughout the year and the line never felt cohesive with the mass amount of changes that had to be made throughout the season.

There are quite a few names in the waiting if the eldest can’t hold their ground, and they had their chances to show what they had this past season. Karsen Barnhart, Trevor Keegan, Reece Atteberry and Zak Zinter are all going to be pushing for starting gigs. The offensive line may be the most competitive positional unit on the team in 2021.