As Michigan Wolverines football fans get through the summer months before kickoff for the 2022-23 season in September, the offseason has given us no shortage of news.
Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives from the offseason thus far.
Mike Elston hired as defensive line coach
In January, Jim Harbaugh hired ex-Michigan linebacker Mike Elston to the coaching staff to replace former defensive line coach Shaun Nua, who took the same position at USC.
Elston played at Michigan from 1993-96 and got his start in coaching on Lloyd Carr’s staff in 1997 and stayed on the staff as a graduate assistant through 2000.
When he was hired, Elston was also named the recruiting coordinator for the Wolverines and has already made an impact on the recruiting trail, building relationships with numerous edge rushers in hopes to land some top prospects in the 2023 class and beyond.
He brings an enormous amount of experience to Michigan’s staff and has coached several position groups since 2001, when he became Eastern Michigan’s defensive ends coach, and has moved up the ranks.
Fans may be waiting to see Michigan’s full 2023 recruiting class and how the defensive line performs on the field this season before they truly judge this hire, but his wealth of experience was surely a positive this offseason.
Virginia center Olu Oluwatimi transfers to Michigan
The Wolverines don’t bring in a ton of transfers, but in late December they nabbed an important one in graduate transfer Olusegun “Olu” Oluwatimi.
He enrolled in the Air Force Academy in 2017 and did not see game action until 2019 after transferring to Virginia in 2018. In 2019, he played in all 14 games at center for the Cavaliers while starting in 13 of them and earned an All-ACC honorable mention recognition.
In 2020, Oluwatimi started all 10 games and in 2021 played the most snaps of any ACC center (910) and was a Rimington Trophy finalist, the first in UVA’s history. He was also selected as a Second-Team All-American by the FWAA.
The Wolverines’ offensive line loses Andrew Vastardis at center, who was a senior last season, so Oluwatimi is expected to be a force along the offensive line this season.
Ronnie Bell cleared for full participation after ACL injury
In a 2021 football season filled with bright spots, Ronnie Bell’s ACL injury against Western Michigan while returning a punt was certainly one of the more devastating moments. Fortunately for Bell, he is well on his way to making his return, and in fact is in the final stages of his recovery, according to MLive’s Aaron McMann.
Bell appeared at a youth football camp at Father Gabriel Richard over the past weekend and told McMann and other reporters he’s been cleared to play football again.
“I think I’m doing (well); I’m kind of wrapping up the process,” Bell said. “Just feeling real strong and just taking everyday step by step.”
Harbaugh also told reporters last week that Bell is moving well and “looks about the same as he did before, maybe even better.”
Bell added he plans on making the most of the couple more months he has ahead to get back up to game speed and be ready for the season.
“I feel like I didn’t really give myself a choice,” Bell said. “If I was dedicating nine months to my body, I better make sure that I came back better than what I was. That’s kind of my approach — I got better to be better.”
Bell’s absence last year gave an opportunity for guys like Cornelius Johnson, Roman Wilson, Andrel Anthony and Erick All to step up and provide more value in the passing game, and adding Bell’s ability back to that mix should be fun for Michigan fans to watch.
Jim Harbaugh’s flirtation with the Vikings
Now that Harbaugh signed a new five-year extension with Michigan, this seems like a long time ago. But when it was happening, Michigan Twitter and everyone associated with the situation was sent into a frenzy.
First, multiple reports surfaced Harbaugh was interviewing with the Vikings (which he did), with many of them giving off the impression he was headed back to the NFL as long as the interview went well. Next thing you know, Adam Schefter reported Harbaugh informed Michigan he would be staying with the program after he interviewed with the Vikings on National Signing Day in February.
In an interview with Mitch Albom, Harbaugh said he will no longer pursue NFL jobs going forward, but admitted his itch to win a Super Bowl led him to pursuing the Vikings job and was set to take it if the Vikings matched his conviction, Harbaugh explained.
“There was a tugging at me that I was once that close to a Super Bowl and I didn’t get it,” Harbaugh said. “Some NFL jobs came open. I was contacted by the (Minnesota) Vikings.
“For better or for worse, it was something I wanted to explore. I went in thinking, ‘I’m gonna have 100 percent conviction on this, and if they (Minnesota) have 100 percent conviction on this, then it’s something I’m gonna do.”
Obviously, Harbaugh ultimately returning to Michigan is an overall positive, as having to go in a new direction from a coaching standpoint would have been a challenge and a punch in the gut to the program coming off a Big Ten title. But the flirtation in general with the NFL and the optics of interviewing on National Signing Day (even though the February signing day meant little to Michigan’s 2022 class) served as a distraction.
Harbaugh told Albom he was transparent with his coaching staff, players and people close to the program about the process he went through, but any time there is focus on anything else aside from recruiting and other things related to the program during the offseason, it’s hard to see that as a positive.
Mike Macdonald’s departure to the Ravens
A year after Harbaugh snagged Mike Macdonald from the Ravens to become Michigan’s defensive coordinator, his brother John took him right back to be the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens.
Michigan has historically had some very good defenses under Harbaugh, and last year’s defense was no exception. But the difference in Macdonald’s scheme as opposed to prior years is his defense allowed for Michigan’s speed edge rushers to get after the quarterback in efficient ways while not being susceptible to the big plays in the back end.
His scheme helped the Wolverines beat Ohio State for the first time in the Harbaugh era on their way to their first Big Ten championship since 2004.
The good news for Michigan is Harbaugh is bringing in Jesse Minter from Vanderbilt, who also spent three seasons as a Ravens defensive assistant and is expected to have a similar scheme Macdonald uses.
I think there are many who expect Minter to pick up right where Macdonald left off, but that’s going to be tough considering the losses of David Ojabo and Aidan Hutchinson. And while it’s more than possible Minter is capable of getting the defense to perform at a high level, no two coaches have the exact same philosophies and each connects with players a little bit differently. So no matter how similar the style, there is still a change here and an adjustment players have to make.
The Wolverines also lost Josh Gattis to Miami on the offensive side of the ball, but I see that as less of an adjustment with the talent Michigan is bringing back on that side of the ball and the heavy involvement Matt Weiss and Sherrone Moore have already had in calling plays.
David Ojabo tears Achilles in pre-draft workout
Ojabo’s Achilles injury during Michigan’s Pro Day in March doesn’t affect Michigan’s football team directly since he is no longer with the program, but it was still incredibly unfortunate to see a player of his caliber suffer that type of injury.
The fact he tore his Achilles and has a road to recovery is a negative in itself, but it was cool to see him drafted by the Ravens in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft and reunite with Macdonald.
Without the injury, Ojabo was projected as at least a top 20 pick. Doctors do expect him to be able to make a full recovery and hopefully that will be the case and he will see the field sooner rather than later.
Last season for Michigan, Ojabo finished the season with 35 tackles (12 for loss), 11 sacks and forced five fumbles in 14 games.