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What we learned from Michigan’s offseason

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A long offseason, a few clues into how the team may perform this year.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 06 Maryland at Michigan Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Michigan Football is just days away from their season opener versus Western Michigan. The offseason featured coaching changes, players earning starting jobs, and a renewed focus.

Here’s a look at some of the things we learned from Michigan’s offseason.

McNamara took the lead early and never looked back

The writing has been on the wall since this spring that Cade McNamara would be Michigan’s starting quarterback. As time went on, McNamara only solidified his spot at the top of the depth chart.

“He’s very smart, he makes great decisions, he processes things very fast and his accuracy and arm strength are more than enough to win with,” quarterbacks coach Matt Weiss said in April. “He’s a guy that’s been awesome to work with. He’s extremely valuable to our team. He’s our starter. Love the fact that we have him.”

McNamara took his leadership skills to a new level, with teammates rallying behind him as the bonafide leader of Michigan’s offense.

“He’s really stepped up. I’ve seen a big difference in him from last year this time of year and now. Even in our walkthroughs. We have player-led walkthroughs — he’s stepping up and having that voice in there,” defensive end Aidan Hutchinson said in May. “I think it’s good to have a solidifying voice on the offensive side. We haven’t had that in a while and I think it’s good that Cade is in there. He’s kind of the rock of the offense right now.”

New coaching hires have brought a new energy

“In practice I’ve seen some energy, some things I haven’t seen in three years of being on this team,” Hutchinson said.

Michigan has four new coaches on the defensive side of the ball, including defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald — there’s room for optimism that the unit turns it around based on the way the team is buying in.

“Every single day we come out to practice is joy, fun, everybody’s laughing with each other, everybody’s having a good time. Bring a lot of energy to the practices, to the meeting rooms,” safety Brad Hawkins said in March. “Everybody’s willing to learn, everybody’s willing to teach. Learning different things from NFL guys, guys that came from different programs, just learning different things. It definitely brings a lot of enthusiasm to the program, to practice and things like that.”

Communication is better on defense

“I think the thing that strikes me and the thing I’ve noticed early on – just really anybody who’s come and watched our practice, former players – is the amount of communication,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said on Monday. “Communication on the field, also on the sidelines. Guys coaching guys, guys talking. Guys spitting out the calls. That’s been tremendous. Something I think is a consistent thing that we’ve seen throughout spring ball and training camp.”

Michigan will have a three headed monster at running back

Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum will be 1A and 1B, but freshman speedster Donovan Edwards will have a role as well.

”Two of our best players on the team are Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum,” “They’re both tremendous. Blake Corum is doing everything he says he’s doing and then some. Hassan Haskins isn’t saying anything but is doing everything that Blake Corum is doing,” Harbaugh said at the beginning of fall camp. “They’re looking really good. Donovan Edwards coming out of spring ball; OK we know he’s going to be a guy but he has a level of speed that the best backs have.”

  • While Haskins is a powerful back, he has above average ability in the open field and can make defenders miss. His vision and patience as a runner has progressed and this could be the year where all the hard work pays off and Haskins puts together a memorable season.
  • Corum will be an asset as a pass-catcher out of the backfield on top of his duties as a rusher. Corum has the ability to break to the outside for big gains and his carries will see a major uptick this season.
  • Edwards will definitely contribute in the passing game and keep defenses honest and on their toes this fall. Further, Mike Hart has had success coaching freshmen ‘backs, and Gattis credited Hart with the progress Edwards has made to this point.

Michigan has taken its preparation for Ohio State to new heights

“Every day, That’s what it’s about. It’s about beating them every single day,” linebacker Josh Ross said in July. “To do that, we’ve got to stack the days, and that’s one thing that’s been a focus for our program, for the players, for the coaches. Make the best of every day.”

Jim Harbaugh proclaimed at Big Ten Media days that Michigan is going to beat Michigan State, beat Ohio State, beat everybody or die trying. Harbaugh’s do it or die trying approach resonated with Michigan’s players.

“That’s motivating. We’re gonna get there, or we’re going to die trying,” Ross said. “That’s our motive. We’re about to grind. We’re about to scrape and claw and scratch, and everything we need to do. I love it. For him to say that, I just love it.”

Michigan has used different motivating tools around the building to make sure they don’t forget about Ohio State.

“We change and adjust things every single offseason, and that’s one thing we did is just to put more of that emphasis on Ohio State and that’s because of coach Harbaugh,” defensive end Aidan Hutchinson said at Big Ten Media Days.

Michigan added a graphic to their weight room that says, “What are you doing to beat Ohio State today?”.

“We have a lot of things, whether that be signs, whether that be other things that remind us of Ohio State,” Hutchinson said. “We’ve never done some of the things we’ve done.”

Michigan’s defense is going to be multiple

“We’re gonna do everything, baby. We’re gonna pattern match, we’re gonna play zone, we’re gonna play man. Gonna have it all,” Macdonald told the media in March. “We’re going to be multiple. The best way I can describe our scheme is it’s gonna look like the places I’ve been previously. You watch out Baltimore defense — tell me the times when we look like a 3-4, there’s gonna be a certain percentage there,” Macdonald said. “But there’s a lot of times where we’re going to look like a 4-3, sometimes we’re gonna look like a 6-1, sometimes we’re gonna look like a 6-2. Sometimes you’re not gonna know what the heck it looks like.”

Part of Macdonald’s approach, despite Michigan being multiple, is not over complicating things for his players. “I think the secret sauce is that it’s really not that complicated. Again, just different concepts layered together. We’re trying to create complexity to an offense. Really trying to make the offense’s life a living nightmare.”

Harbaugh said that the defense is just ready to get to work. “No real catchphrases or things we’re espousing,” he said. “We just want to play good defense.”