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Five biggest questions for Michigan post-spring game

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There are some changes going on in Ann Arbor.

Michigan Spring Game Photo by Jaime Crawford/Getty Images

The winged helmet has touched the Big House in front of fans for the last time in the 2021-22 academic year following Team Blue’s 20-12 victory over Team Maize. The next time Ann Arbor will be this hyped again will be in the Week 1 matchup against Colorado State in September.

While there were some questions that were answered, there are still plenty remaining. Let’s take a deep dive into what everyone is wondering in Ann Arbor.

Who will be Michigan’s power back?

It’s pretty clear Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards are going to receive ample amounts of playing time this season. Both bring their own unique portion to the table. Corum is expected to get the most run, and with good reason. When healthy last season, he was one of the biggest playmakers in college football.

Edwards came onto the scene late in the year, but really found his groove in the passing game. He is the perfect combination of size and speed while being a threat to catch balls from the backfield.

But neither are really that downhill, roll over bodies kind of back Hassan Haskins was for the team last season. It appears the Wolverines are still searching for options to fill his role, and it could come from outside of the position from last year.

Kalel Mullings lining up in the backfield may have been one of the biggest surprises of the spring game. Many projected him as a middle linebacker, but he did take some snaps as a running back in high school, too. So far in Ann Arbor, he has only played on defense. But position switches are not uncommon; take a look at Mike Sainristil (more on him later). It even worked out well at another school in the Big Ten Conference last season when Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen switched from linebacker to running back and ended the season with eight 100+ yard performances.

Tavierre Dunlap is another name to watch for. He may not be as athletically gifted as Mullings, but he really packs a punch. It seemed like every time he got carries in the spring game he picked up some nice yardage.

Senior Leon Franklin may throw his hat in that ring, too.

How will the WR room shake out?

Michigan returns most of the receiver room from last season while also getting Ronnie Bell back for one more ride following his knee injury. Cornelius Johnson was the leading receiver and Andrel Anthony continues to be hyped as a budding star. Roman Wilson is also likely safe with his experience and speed which makes him such a huge threat. But what about after them?

Sainristil is now a corner (or maybe playing both ways). And A.J. Henning continues to struggle to find his role on this team. He suggested he’d like to be versatile like Deebo Samuel of the San Francisco 49ers this offseason, but there was nothing to indicate that in the spring game. Maybe that was designed and Jim Harbaugh is waiting to show that package until the regular season, but who really knows?

Then, true freshman and early enrollee Darrius Clemons absolutely showed out in the spring game. He certainly garnered plenty of praise from teammates when they spoke to the media postgame. Sophomore Cristian Dixon and fellow freshmen Tyler Morris and Amorion Walker will get some conversation too.

It’s a very deep room and maybe the best overall unit on the team, but not all these guys can be thrilled with their playing time or role when the season begins.

Will Mike Sainristil play both ways?

This thought brings us to our next question, as it seemed Sainristil was all gung-ho about being a defensive back this offseason. He even had a solid pass breakup against the guy he used to catch it from, Cade McNamara, in the early parts of the contest. Many thought his days on the offensive end were all but over as this transition began.

Then Michigan listed him as a wideout on the official roster for the spring game — and he even played a couple snaps, including one where he possessed the ball. If he is playing both ways, it makes things even more complicated in that receiver room, but the senior will likely only be involved in certain packages.

Learning the defensive side of the ball in your last year of eligibility won’t be easy, as he hasn’t played corner since high school. Especially because D.J. Turner was such a stud last season, Gemon Green is still with the program and five-star recruit Will Johnson is making a name for himself early on. This will be one of the most intriguing developments to watch.

How different will this offense look without Josh Gattis?

Broyles Award winner Josh Gattis moved on from Michigan to go to the same position at Miami. It was a move that brought drama to the program throughout the offseason as Harbaugh pondered a return to the NFL.

Without him on Saturday, the offense looked rather similar. Play-calling wasn’t out of this world (even though there was that fun double-pass from Erick All to freshman Colston Loveland). But it seemed like the philosophy of downfield running and screen passes to the outside were generally the theme.

With Matt Weiss and Sherrone Moore calling plays, Michigan seems to be in good hands. I guess part of my fear was we would see a little more traditional and vintage Harbaugh return with Gattis out the door. Instead, the same principles Gattis brought still seems to be in effect.

How much of a step down will the defensive line take?

Losing three starters in a position group is never easy. When two of them were the most productive group in the history of the program, that’s a whole different story.

Michigan will certainly miss David Ojabo, Aidan Hutchinson and Chris Hinton this season. Together, they formed one of the most dominant defensive lines in all of college football last year. To expect the same in 2022-23 seems unlikely.

With that being said, Taylor Upshaw continues to juice himself up as it is finally his turn to show what he can do as a graduate student. He had a couple really dominant-looking pass rushes against his teammates in the spring game.

Opposite of him could be Mike Morris, another veteran player with plenty of experience. Or it could be a junior in Braiden McGregor who still has a lot to prove based on his previous recruiting rankings. Either way, there is talent aplenty at the edge rusher spot, just maybe not as legendary as last year’s unit was.

On the interior, Mazi Smith expects to be the leader there as a senior, but don’t forget about a guy like Kris Jenkins who racked up a sack in this contest. Early enrollee true freshman Mason Graham and sophomore George Rooks impressed late in the game as well.

No matter what, it looks like this Michigan defense could be what carries the team again. Saturday’s contest was a defensive battle throughout and it seemed indicative of the work Jesse Minter has put in since taking over. Even with some of the NFL talent missing from last year’s team, the defense felt far beyond where the offense was at in the spring.