Spring preview: Michigan
Michigan begins spring practice on Tuesday following a disappointing 2013 campaign in Ann Arbor.
Let's take a look at some of the issues facing the Wolverines as they prepare for their spring game on April 5 at Michigan Stadium.
It's really 'pro' now: Head coach Brady Hoke has always wanted the Wolverines to run a traditional pro-style attack, but for a variety of reasons the team never could fully commit. Enter Doug Nussmeier, the former Alabama offensive coordinator who has replaced Al Borges. I thought that Nussmeier did a really nice job of expanding the Crimson Tide's power offense in Tuscaloosa, so he'll have a chance to do the same at his new school. The traditional pro-style scheme will get installed this spring, and there will be a learning curve as is the case with anything else that is new.
US PRESSWIRECan Devin Gardner hold onto the starting job in Ann Arbor?
Who will be under center?: While Devin Gardner is back for a final season, his starting job is not guaranteed. Shane Morris, who was the backup signal-caller last year, has a chance to wrest the job away from Gardner, who finished the 2013 regular season on a strong note in a close loss to Ohio State. But he was inconsistent last season due to a variety of factors, so he will have to show this offseason that he has fully mastered the new scheme. He has the experience edge, though Morris was able to get his feet wet during bowl prep and in the postseason contest against Kansas State. And with Gardner being limited by the toe injury that has sidelined him since the game against the Buckeyes, Morris may get the majority of reps under Nussmeier's tutelage this spring. Russell Bellomy and early enrollee Wilton Speight will also see action under center.
Get better up front: One of the big reasons for Gardner's mixed results last year was the poor play of the offensive line, which led to the QB getting battered and the team's run game being non-existent. Essentially the entire O-Line has to prove itself this offseason, so competition will be fierce. Left tackle Erik Magnuson will miss spring with a shoulder injury, so that's a setback for an expected starter. As bad as the O-Line was last fall, Michigan needs improved play front the defensive front as well. New D-Line coach Mark Smith will try to improve the team's weak pass rush, and he'll need to find new starters at tackle with Jibreel Black and Quinton Washington moving on.
At running back, the expectations remain high for Derrick Green, who arrived on campus last year as one of the most highly touted freshmen in America. Green will battle for carries with De’Veon Smith.
Who will step up at the receiver position? The Wolverines may desperately miss Jeremy Gallon unless someone such as Devin Funchess, who moved from tight end, steps up. Gallon, of course, set the Big Ten single-game record for receiving yards in a victory over Indiana by recording 14 catches for 369 yards and two touchdowns. Speaking of tight ends, Jake Butt is sidelined with a torn knee ligament, so junior A.J. Williams, senior Jordan Paskorz and redshirt freshman Khalid Hill will get long looks this spring before incoming freshman Ian Bunting arrives. Only Williams has a career reception from that group.
On the defensive side of the ball, coordinator Greg Mattison will work with the linebackers and not the defensive line, secondary coach Curt Mallory will work with the safeties, former outside linebackers coach Roy Manning will coach the cornerbacks and linebackers coach Mark Smith is now the defensive line coach. Michigan suffered a dropoff on its defense last year from the first two seasons of the Hoke era, so the team elected to change things up for 2014.
Dave Miller, the college football editor and writer for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.