Life without senior captain and wide receiver Ronnie Bell began this week as the Michigan Wolverines prepare for the Washington Huskies. It will not be easy to replace a guy who was arguably the standout of the first game, even in limited action. It is a challenge the Wolverines are taking on with open arms.
Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis will be responsible for not only coaching up the wide receiver room, a skill he has a decent track record of in the past, but also putting them in positions to succeed. He knows how difficult the road ahead will be.
He also knows who needs to step up.
“The loss of Ronnie is huge. Ronnie Bell, the impact that he has on the team, the impact that he has on that room, the receiver room, that hurt,” Gattis told the media on Wednesday. “That hurt throughout the game, and it was a pivotal moment for our team to be able to rally around him. I don’t know if Ronnie Bell will be replaced by one guy as it may be by committee of everyone. Ronnie was off to having—it was his best camp, his best offseason since he’s been here and obviously that showed up on the field. He was off to a great start. He’s gonna be very important to us moving forward as he remains with his leadership. That’s the thing he came to us about is, ‘Hey coach, I just don’t want to be hurt and be missing. I want to be active, I want to be involved.’ He’s done a great job of coaching guys out on the field. He’s riding around on the field with a golf cart and he’s being active in any way that he can be. We’re gonna need him to continue to be the leader and the captain that he’s been.
“As far as explosive plays, I think some guys did a really good job of making plays. I think when you look at Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum, those guys are special players. Then seeing the ability of A.J. Henning. We’re gonna need Roman Wilson to step up, and C.J. I just think our guys, overall, just the mindset that they have to really create those plays and it really goes back to them. It’s not about anything else. It’s about them and the talent they have and taking over games.”
The approach and the identity offensively remains the same, but a challenge of sorts has been issued to the skill players on offense. In a season where they must succeed or “die trying,” as Jim Harbaugh puts it, there is not a choice other than to step up to the plate.
“Just for us, we’ve gotta do what we do extremely well,” Gattis said. “Obviously, losing Ronnie, we’re gonna have some guys step up. Going into the last game, we finally got Daylen Baldwin healthy. He was a guy that was kinda banged up the last two weeks. He had a really good camp. We’re glad to have him going full speed. In fact, going into the game, I didn’t know if he was gonna end up playing. Had it not been for the Ronnie Bell situation, we probably wouldn’t have played Daylen just to make sure he was 100% healthy. But you saw his ability, obviously, in the play that he did make. I feel good about the depth and the talent that we have. C.J., Mikey, Roman, A.J. Henning, Daylen, those guys provide some really key, core playmakers for us. They’re all talented, they’re all athletic and they make big plays for us.”
Gattis does not forsee the playbook changing too much because what Bell brought to the table over his teammates was more of the intangible variety. Confidence is going to determine who gets opportunities.
“I think Ronnie’s greatest strength is his determination, his will and his mindset,” Gattis said. “He’s an alpha male at the receiver position. He’s a guy that, if there’s a one-on-one opportunity, you have 100% confidence going in his direction, saying, ‘Hey, we’re gonna give this guy an opportunity to ball, because he’s gonna make this play.’ I think the other guys now need to step up and play that same type of mentality, to gain the confidence, not only for us as coaches but for quarterbacks, ‘Hey, I can lean on this guy in a one-on-one situation.’”
“With all things even, and two guys got simple routes, the quarterback’s gonna go to the one that he feels is most certain is gonna make a play for him. C.J.’s done that, and we have the utmost confidence in him, now it’s about having Roman Wilson, Daylen Baldwin, those guys who are gonna step up in place of Ronnie, A.J. Henning, display that type of ability that gives quarterbacks that certainty in them.”
The Wolverines get a chance to show what they are without Bell starting in Week 2 with Washington coming to town on Saturday night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET from the Big House. Michigan is currently a 6.5-point favorite per FanDuel.