The Michigan Wolverines have many questions ahead of the 2021 season on both sides of the ball. Michigan made most of its changes this offseason on defense, but there were some notable alterations to the offensive operation. Josh Gattis is now joined in a co-coordinator role by Sherrone Moore. Moore is taking on offensive line duties after spending the last few seasons at the helm of the tight ends room.
The biggest splash of the offseason on the offensive coaching staff came with the hiring of former Michigan standout Mike Hart to coach the running backs. Matt Weiss was also brought in from the Baltimore Ravens to coach the quarterbacks.
The desired result is a streamlined approach that sees Michigan unlock the offensive potential it thinks it has. Gattis has shown a desire to run a spread offense that has west coast passing tendencies and the emphasis is on getting the ball in the hands of their playmakers with nothing but green grass in front of them (SEE: Speed In Space). But do they have the pieces to do it?
Here are my biggest questions at each position for Michigan.
Quarterback: How long will the Cade McNamara era last?
It is no secret that Michigan has a potential star waiting in five-star freshman J.J. McCarthy. Given the early feedback on how he has looked in preparation for the season, it does seem as if seeing him on the field is more of a “when not if” situation. Despite that, McNamara was tapped as the starter coming out of spring football by the coaching staff. That is the earliest we have seen that happen in the Harbaugh era, so it does seem like a notable endorsement.
McNamara was not ranked as highly as his predecessors as a recruit but still was a four-star prospect. His high school film showed a guy that looked like a college-ready passer and someone who could be a reliable starter. He simply ran the offense and made the throws he needed to make in limited action in 2020 and it feels like he could be a steady presence. Does that mean he can push Michigan past the 9-win plateau? Maybe not. But he isn’t a scrub and he might be able to give you some Jake Rudock-esque play throughout the season.
At some point, it is going to be McCarthy time. Maybe it’s this season. Maybe it’s 2022. McNamara’s play and development will determine that.
Running Back: Can Hassan Haskins hold off the youths?
Haskins is a solid RB1 and emerged as the top option over the last few seasons. He is a tough runner that has a knack for picking up a few extra yards. The knock against him might be his burst and versatility, which makes the options behind him this year all that more intriguing.
Blake Corum feels like a guy who could be ready for a huge breakout after being a bit player last season. Donovan Edwards was on the fringes of being a five-star recruit in the 2021 cycle. Both players have homerun ability and can catch the ball out of the backfield. They are too talented to not get their share of touches, which makes for a really interesting backfield dynamic.
This is something that Hart will have to sort out and might be the biggest task ahead of him in his first season back home. Michigan’s depth at running back has been a strength on paper recently but has also been a detriment at times, as the staff has attempted to keep everyone fed and happy. This trio, along with another up-and-comer in Tavierre Dunlap, is too talented to not be able to piece something together.
Wide Receiver: Who is the “go-to” guy?
Ronnie Bell. Cornelius Johnson. Roman Wilson. AJ Henning. Christian Dixon. Andrel Anthony.
This is a pretty solid group of wideouts even before adding a transfer in the form of Daylen Baldwin. But nobody here, sans maybe Ronnie Bell, screams No. 1 receiver or the guy that is going to demand the ball in a big situation.
That is not always a bad thing. Sometimes having a room full of complementary wide receivers helps you spread the wealth all over the field. In an ideal situation, that’s probably what Michigan wants its passing game to look like.
Michigan looked best when Bell, Johnson and Wilson were on the field together last year. Wilson is someone with the track speed and explosiveness to be a game-breaker. Throwing Baldwin into the mix with Johnson could give you a pair of receivers that stand at 6-foot-3 on the outside. Like many other things on the roster, there is still a lot to sort out here.
Tight End: Can Erick All put the drops behind him?
The tight end spot was a prominent part of Harbaugh’s Michigan in the early stages of his tenure but has been phased out a bit. The staff has been excited about All since his recruitment but has yet to put together consistent stretches. Drops are the quantifiable thing that he needs to improve on as it pertains to his production. But just about everything else needs work, too.
He has the potential to be a Devin Funchess-esque player that can play in-line or flex out wide and play a receiver role. He also is a more than willing blocker that brings a flair to the position. Year three is when these things need to come together. If they do not now, it might not ever happen.
Offensive Line: Will Sherrone Moore have the magic touch?
It was somewhat surprising when Michigan moved on from Ed Warinner this offseason, as he has a track record of developing good offensive lines wherever he has been. But the move was made and Michigan soldiers on with Moore, one of Harbaugh’s ace assistants over the last few seasons.
We think that Ryan Hayes and Andrew Stueber are locked into two of the five spots upfront, but that leaves a lot up for grabs. Chuck Filiaga, Andrew Vasatardis, Trevor Keegan, Karsen Barnhart, Zak Zinter and others feel like they have a shot to grab those final three spots.
Last year was kind of a disaster for this group on several fronts. There was not a position group more affected by a lack of spring football and hastily thrown together training camp than this one. Even when they practiced together, the units were split to prevent a potential COVID outbreak. A return to normalcy should make it easier to find who the best five are, but it remains to be seen if Moore has the Midas touch his predecessor had with this group.