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Michigan’s most interesting position battles to watch during fall camp

There is one everyone has their eyes on.

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Georgia at Michigan Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines began their fall camp earlier this week, and football is right around the corner once again. A chance at defending the Big Ten title and maybe even more is on the line for Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff. In order to do so, they will have to put their best players on the field and give them opportunities to succeed.

As the squad lost several starters from last year’s team, there are some holes that need to be filled to make this team a contender again. Let’s dive into some of the most interesting position battles to watch during fall camp:

QB1: J.J. McCarthy vs. Cade McNamara

This is the battle everyone and their mother knows about, but it is going to be the most pivotal to not just this season, but potentially the future of the program.

“Cade McNamara is going to be really tough to beat out for the starting quarterback job,” Harbaugh said at Big Ten Media Day last week. “J.J. McCarthy is going to be really tough to beat out for the starting quarterback job.”

McNamara led the Wolverines to their first Big Ten Championship Game win last season. He was the leader on the field and in the locker room. He exudes confidence and everything you want from a mentality standpoint from your quarterback.

On the other hand, McCarthy has flashed all the arm talent in the world in the moments we saw him on the field in 2021. He’s coming off a shoulder injury that kept him out of spring ball, but all eyes are on the former five-star recruit to see if he can dethrone the incumbent.

The best man is going to win this job, but at what cost? Locker room shakeups happen when a leader like McNamara is no longer on the field. And with the transfer portal wide open for five-star quarterbacks, McCarthy could easily jump ship if he feels slighted for not starting for consecutive seasons. It’s a very dangerous game Harbaugh has to play to keep his team intact.

WR4: A.J. Henning, Andrel Anthony, Darrius Clemons, Mike Sainristil (?)

The Wolverines are LOADED at wide receiver. Ronnie Bell is back and is the clear-cut No. 1 guy. Cornelius Johnson filled Bell’s shoes adequately last season when he was injured and will be No. 2. Roman Wilson also could be on the heels of a breakout season this year after showing plenty of explosion in 2021.

After that is where things get interesting, and it will all depend on what we see from co-offensive coordinators Matt Weiss and Sherrone Moore. There is a lot of talent that is all going to expect to see playing time.

Last year, Henning said he wanted to be used in a Deebo Samuel kind of role as a hybrid running back/wide receiver. Could the new playcallers grant his wish?

Anthony starred in the loss to Michigan State, but injuries and depth slowed his progression and we didn’t see much of him after that. Then, Sainristil got up and moved to the defensive side of the ball while also seeing snaps on offense in spring camp. Where does he line up and how does that change the depth chart?

Then, the biggest unknown is true freshman Darrius Clemons, who has received high praise from teammates. To follow that up, he showed out in the spring game including this sweet snag in the end zone:

There is just so much talent here, so expect playing time from all these guys early on and eventually one or two of them to separate from the rest of the pack.

RT: Trente Jones and Karsen Barnhart

Being a starting lineman at the University of Michigan is really hard to do. Aside from the edge position, Harbaugh has been most successful at producing NFL talent along the offensive line.

Redshirt juniors Trente Jones and Karsen Barnhart are attempting to join this exclusive club. Reports are Jones currently has the edge, but both saw considerable playing time in 2021. My guess is Jones plays at right tackle and Barnhart takes over that sixth offensive lineman role Jones occupied last season. But the two could be interchangeable and the battle will be tight.

EDGE: Taylor Upshaw, Mike Morris, Jaylen Harrell, Braiden McGregor, TJ Guy

Replicating the production Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo set last season will not be possible by the Wolverines in 2022. It is highly unlikely any of the names above take the same leaps those two did a season ago. However, there is so much talent remaining in this room and even a sliver of what those two NFL Draft picks produced will still be adequate in 2022.

Upshaw and Morris are the definite favorites to be the starters opposite of each other, and Harrell saw a good amount of playing time a season ago. But don’t count out McGregor and Guy, who both showed significant improvements in the spring.

The depth is there, and I expect there to be a lot of fluidity in this group. In the end, it’s all going to be about putting the best pairing on the field on particular downs.

DB1’s: Mike Sainristil, Keon Sabb, R.J. Moten, Will Johnson, Rod Moore, Makari Paige

Ah, the fluidity of the Michigan secondary. Who knows where any of these guys will line up? Let’s start with the nickel, as each of these guys could probably be the starter at the position. Sainristil saw plenty of time there in the spring and would be a great option if Moten stayed at strong safety with Moore sliding back into the free safety spot after missing spring practice with a torn labrum.

Or maybe one of the pair of true freshmen slides into the nickel role. Johnson is going to be extremely tough to keep off the field with his unique size, speed and playmaking ability, but the outside corner spots seem to be locked down by DJ Turner and Gemon Green. Sabb also saw some snaps over the slot and in single-high safety during spring ball.

Moore was another guy who saw plenty of time at nickel last season, but is behind the ball after missing all of spring practice. He could stay there or move back to safety.

The only guy who is a lock as a starter is Moten. He’s my breakout candidate for this group in 2022 as he has adapted seamlessly to new roles throughout his time in Ann Arbor. I think he gets the nod at the Brad Hawkins role from last season playing deep over the middle, but he could line up all over the field.

My best guess? By season’s end Johnson, Moten and Moore will have seen the most snaps out of this group. Overall, it’s a great problem to have. There is a TON of athleticism and speed in this secondary in 2022. They are going to have multiple options to try out, and we are going to see some fun camp battles coming out of it.