There’s plenty of excitement in the air for the start of the 2023 Michigan football season, which kicks off with camp on Aug. 1 and the first practice on Aug. 2.
While Michigan is returning several big time starters on both sides of the ball, some questions still need to be answered ahead of the week one matchup with East Carolina, namely, who are the candidates to fill some of the vacated slots on the depth chart?
Here are three of the most intriguing position battles to keep an eye on ahead of the season.
While Michigan returns two starting receivers (Cornelius Johnson and Roman Wilson), it’s still a question as to who will fill Ronnie Bell’s shoes as Michigan’s third receiver. Serving as one of J.J. McCarthy’s go-to targets last year, his departure leaves over 60 receptions and almost 900 yards of production that will need to be replaced. Johnson and Wilson will likely see an uptick in production, but a few young players should see some action as well.
Sophomore Tyler Morris played sparingly last year and registered only 25 yards on three receptions. A former high school teammate of McCarthy’s, Morris could serve as Michigan’s slot receiver this year and help make up for some of the lost production from Bell.
Sophomore Darrius Clemons could also fill that void. A former four-star recruit, Clemons is a bigger receiver (6-foot-3, 214 pounds) that contributed mostly on special teams last year. Still, Clemons is dripping with potential and athleticism that will make it hard to keep him off the field this year.
Juniors Peyton O’Leary and Cristian Dixon are also dark horses to see targets this year.
It might be strange to think, but the position that might be one of the least concerning for Michigan this year still has some questions to be answered. The Wolverines return three starters from 2022’s Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line, who all figure to start once again. Zak Zinter and Trevor Keegan will start in the guard spots, while Karsen Barnhart should have the edge at right tackle. Still, Michigan will have to replace the production of tackle Ryan Hayes and center Olu Oluwatimi.
“I look at 10 guys right now that are starter caliber,” said Jim Harbaugh of his offensive line at last week’s conference media days.
While there’s no shortage of good options for the offensive line, there are only five that can start.
A pair of transfers might have the best shot at filling the two remaining holes. Drake Nugent, a graduate transfer from Stanford, appears to have the edge at center. He started 24 games at Stanford and received All-Pac 12 honorable mentions twice. Junior Greg Crippen is his stiffest competition, but Raheem Anderson looked good last year as well.
Arizona State grade transfer LaDarius Henderson is currently the favorite to start at left tackle. Henderson has 29 career starts between left guard and left tackle. Trente Jones and Stanford transfer Myles Hinton are also in consideration for both tackle positions.
Anderson and Giovanni El-Hadi will also be a part of the battle for snaps as the sixth offensive lineman.
Sophomore Will Johnson is locked in as one of the starters at cornerback after a standout freshman campaign. Additionally, Mike Sainristill should be locked in as the nickel after impressing in his first year on defense. It remains to be seen though who will be Michigan’s CB2 in 2023. As it currently stands, this might be the most concerning position on the field heading into the season.
Amorion Walker brings tons of size and athleticism as a converted wide receiver, but he struggled in the spring game and has reportedly been inconsistent. He’s currently the leader to start opposite Johnson, but his lack of experience might keep him on a short leash.
Due to the lack of depth and experience in the cornerback room, it was no surprise to see Michigan bring in UMass transfer Josh Wallace. As a senior with the Minutemen last year, Wallace registered two interceptions and eight pass breakups. His experience makes him a valuable member of the secondary, and even if he’s not starting, he should still see the field plenty this fall.
Junior Ja’Den McBurrows could also see playing time this season, but he’s coming off a season-long injury. Finally, don’t count out redshirt freshman Myles Pollard either as a dark horse candidate.