UA-59049186-1 Michigan Football 2017 Preview - Good if it Goes

Michigan Football 2017 Preview

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Last year had the potential to be The Year for Michigan. Then it ended with a thud after a bad spot took away a chance at a playoff bid and a Jabrill Peppers injury significantly hurt their chances in the Orange Bowl. Peppers, and quite a few others, are now in the NFL and Michigan looks to reload. What that means for this season – who knows? There’s certainly talent there, but it’s young talent. There could be some real growing pains or this could be a true reload, not rebuild, akin to Ohio State’s during their championship season.

Quarterback

Wilton Speight‘s the guy. Whether he’s a guy, a Guy, or (hopefully, but this may be a pipe dream) a Dude will set the tone for what Michigan can do this year. Last year, he had a couple flashes of brilliance, but was mostly just a guy. We know Jim Harbaugh is going to get any QB he encounters to reach his ceiling. He did so at San Diego with Josh Johnson. He did so at Stanford with Andrew Luck. He did so in San Francisco with Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. He’s done so at Michigan once already with Jake Rudock, taking him from “guy Iowa deemed so expendable they let him walk to a team within the conference, despite said team yoinking a running back from them on signing day and CJ Beathard remaining as the starter” to NFL draft pick. He’ll do so with Wilton Speight as well.

Unless that’s already happened and this just is Speight’s ceiling. And that’s really the concern here. Speight was not recruited by Harbaugh, who has a great eye for QB talent. He was recruited by Al Borges, who has, uh, not that. Speight was a middling 3-star recruit out of Virginia a little inside the top 500 overall on the 247 composite and is now a redshirt junior. Maybe his ceiling is higher than this, but there’s not much reason to expect that there is. But if there’s one person who can find another level for him…

Beyond Speight, the Wolverines have redshirt senior John O’Korn and redshirt freshman Brandon Peters. What order they’re in on the depth chart is a mystery. Program insiders say O’Korn’s the backup. Last year’s game against Indiana says no way. Harbaugh said Speight and O’Korn had separated themselves from the rest in practice, but statements from Harbaugh are largely useless for getting information, even for those of us fluent in Harbaughese. O’Korn could really be the backup, or Harabugh could have said that to light a fire under Peters. Or the whole thing could be one giant red herring and Peters will make the start against Florida. I mean, probably not, but Harbaugh’s like Sting – the only thing that’s for sure is that nothing’s for sure.

O’Korn transferred in from Houston after getting benched in his sophomore year after a promising freshman one. Many thought O’Korn would be the starter last year, then Speight won the job, then we saw why during the Indiana game. This site graded O’Korn’s performance in that game at -3 in a grading system where +3 is a lousy score for a QB. Granted, the game was not played in ideal weather conditions, but even so, O’Korn was not good. Maybe he’s got it turned around. That’s a heck of a turn to make, though.

Brandon Peters came in with a ton of hype and a high school tape that looked like Andrew Luck. He turned in a great performance in this year’s spring game, looking like a taller Aaron Rodgers. In theory, the ceiling is the roof for him. Practice reports early on stated he was in the mix at QB, then those reports slowed. Then an insider said he would be behind true freshman Dylan McCaffrey if McCaffrey was not redshirting. I have a hard time believing it’s a talent issue for Peters. If those reports are accurate, my guess is that Peters doesn’t have quite the command of the offense and/or huddle that Harbuagh wants to see just yet.

Running back

Sophomore Chris Evans is the starter. A year ago, he showed quick feet good instincts, and sky-high potential. This year, with Michigan set to spread their offense out a little more, Evans looks set to get some snaps in as a slot-type as well. Junior Karan Higdon will get quite a few carries as well. He began showing real promise a year ago and has since had another off-season to work on his vision issues. Redshirt senior Ty Isaac has shown a flash here or there of why he was a 5-star prospect coming out of high school. Because of the infrequency of those, he finds himself at #3 on the depth chart. Redshirt freshman Kareem Walker should get a few carries this year. He had some academic issues last year, but those appear to be behind him now. His ceiling is a high one – we should get to see what Derrick Green would have looked like if he wasn’t coached by dopes. Still, with a few guys ahead of him, it’ll likely be another year before he takes on a big role.

Redshirt seniors Khalid Hill and Henry Poggi look to get the majority of the snaps at fullback. “Hammering Panda” Hill is the more dynamic of the two and can play a role in the passing game as well. Freshman Ben Mason may get some snaps as he prepares to be the man at the position next year.

Wide receiver

Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh are gone. Drake Harris is a cornerback now. Kekoa Crawford is the surest thing Michigan has at receiver right now, “right now” being the operative words, because boy oh boy, does the future look bright. Michigan brought in a fantastic receiver group in the class of 2017, headlined by the top receiver in the nation, Donovan Peoples-Jones. DPJ is an outstanding athlete, but will likely need a year or two to refine his receiver skills since he was not asked to run much of a route tree in high school. Fortunately for Michigan, while he does that, they also have Tarik Black, Nico Collins, and Oliver Martin in that class, any or all of whom could see playing time. Blackis the most likely and may even start.

Junior Grant Perry figures to get the most snaps in the slot. He’s become a great route runner, using sharp moves to get himself open. Sophomore Eddie McDoom should get some snaps in the slot as well after being mostly used on sweeps a year ago. Walk-on redshirt freshman Nate Schoenle was the recipient of some hype during spring practice and apparently, it was not just hype. Look for him to get some playing time this season.

Tight end

Jake Butt is gone, but there are plenty of guys around who could step up and maybe not totally fill his shoes, but at least come close. The leader of that group is Ian Bunting. Bunting looks like he could be Jake Butt-lite – very good receiver, solid, but not great, blocker. Redshirt sophomore and converted quarterback Zach Gentry figures to get some playing time in a receiving TE role. He had a nice showing in the spring game. Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. is Michigan’s most physical TE. He’s shown flashes of his potential, but has some work to do in order to actually get there. Redshirt freshmen Nick Eubanks and Sean McKeon probably need another year before being able to seriously contribute.

Offensive line

Senior Mason Cole moves back to left tackle, because Michigan has a serious need at tackle. Cole was a very good run blocker in his first go-round at the position, though he struggled against the best pass rushers. At center, he struggled one-on-one against nose tackles, but otherwise showed why he’s thought to be one of the top prospects at the position in the 2018 draft. Sophomores Ben Bredeson and Mike Onwenu look to be the starters at the guard spots. Bredeson was called into action after Grant Newsome was lost for the season and looked like a freshman in said action. He’s had a year to develop since then. He should be at least fine. Mike Onwenu saw a smattering of snaps last year and in the interim has dropped some weight after playing at some number in the neighborhood of 400. Even at that size, Onwenu could move. Good luck moving him. Redshirt senior Patrick Kugler gets his chance to start this year, at center. Kugler came to Michigan with plenty of hype, but never made it to the field regularly. Now there’s an opening and he should be at least solid in filling it. He was fine in limited action a year ago. Right tackle is a spot of major concern. The starter will be…uh…dunno. Nolan Ulizio, maybe? Jon Runyan, Jr.? Chuck Filiaga? Andrew Stueber? In any case, it will be either a true freshman or someone with zero experience better suited to playing guard.

Defensive line

This is where Michigan is definitely reloading, not rebuilding. Sophomore Rashan Gary starts at anchor, Don Brown’s term for SDE. Gary was the #1 player in the class of 2016 and showed some of that potential last year. This year, he gets a chance in a starting role and with that being the case, I would not want to be a Big Ten offensive tackle. At end, Brown’s term for WDE, is redshirt junior Chase Winovich, who was rather effective as a pass rusher a year ago. He won’t bring everything Taco Charlton does, but the drop-off should not be immense. Redshirt senior Maurice Hurst, Jr. starts at 3T and with that being the case, I would not want to be a Big Ten interior OL. Harbaugh said the OL has no answer for Hurst and I get the feeling that’s going to be a recurring theme for teams this year. Hurst was a problem for teams last year and should be an even bigger one this year before heading to the NFL, possibly as a first-round draft pick. Redshirt junior Bryan Mone starts at NT after having injuries derail him the last two years. If he’s healthy, expect great things. If not, expect problems, as depth is rather thin. Carlo Kemp has been the recipient of some practice hype and figures to be the backup at anchor. At end, the backup is probably true freshman Luiji Vilain. Vilain’s high school tape is rather impressive, but this is a pretty big leap to make. Inside, the backups figure to be true freshman Aubrey Solomon and redshirt freshman Mike Dwumfour, in some configuration. Solomon’s high school tape looked fantastic, but the same caveats that apply to Vilain apply here. Dwumfour saw a little action a year ago before redshirting with an injury.

Linebacker

Redshirt senior Mike McCray, Jr. leads the unit inside. While his coverage abilities were not great a year ago, McCray excelled as pass rusher and run stopper. If his coverage improves, he could be a high draft pick. Sophomore Devin Bush starts at the other ILB spot. He’s got a lot of potential and looked rather good in the spring game, but some growing pains would not be shocking. Growing pains would also not be shocking at the Viper spot, the SAM/safety hybrid spot in Brown’s defense. Jabrill Peppers exits the role to move on the NFL and in his place comes Jabrill Peppers-lite Khaleke Hudson. Hudson, a sophomore, brings many of the same skills Peppers did, just not at that sae level (yet?). Behind the starters, redshirt senior Mike Wroblewski has been talked up a bit and given the awesome nickname Robo. Expect the walk-on to see some action this year. At least one of Josh Ross, Jordan Anthony, and Drew Singleton should see the field at least a bit this year as the prepare for bigger roles in the coming years. Noah Furbush could see some action against manball-style teams.

Secondary

Sophomore Lavert Hill appears to have locked down one starting corner spot and should be at least fine. The younger brother of former Wolverine and current Seattle Seahawk Delano Hill has been talked up quite a bit by the coaches. The other starting corner spot will be occupied by…uh…dunno. Everyone seemed to be under the assumption that it was going to be redshirt freshman David Long, a highly-touted recruit out of high school, then he wasn’t talked about as having separated himself from the pack. Redshirt junior Brandon Watson is a possibility here, though he hasn’t shown much in his career thus far. Converted receiver Drake Harris is probably not ready for that role. Michigan brought in a couple talented recruits in Ambry Thomas and Benjamin St.-Juste, though they both should redshirt, the former to add size, and the latter to adjust to the American game after coming over from Canada. Jaylen Kelly-Powell could see time in a nickel/CB/S hybrid role.

Tyree Kinnel starts at free safety. The junior is the most sure thing in this year’s secondary. While this is his first year starting, he’s looked solid when on the field previously. Sophomore Josh Metellus starts at strong safety. We got a glimpse of him at the Viper spot in the Orange Bowl. It could have gone better. Some of that could be attributed to Peppers’ injury occurring the day before the game, giving Michigan very little time to adjust. If I were a betting man, I would bet on that being the case, as talk about Metellus has been positive. Redshirt sophomore Jordan Glasgow, who has the best possible name for a walk-on defensive back looks to be the backup, though he could also see some time at Viper.

Special teams

Redshirt freshman Quinn Nordin has a cannon of a leg and will handle field goals. He showed off that leg in the spring game with a field goal that would have been good from 60+. Either Ryan Tice or Kyle Seychel will handle kickoffs. Either one should be fine. Also in “should be fine”: whoever punts, likely freshman Brad Robbins.

Michigan lost all their kick returners from a year ago. Look for Eddie McDoom or Nate Johnson in those roles. That should, you guessed it, be fine.

Predictions

The defense should be great again this year, if not as great as last year’s version. Depth is a concern, particularly along the defensive line. The offense has major questions. The unit replaces three linemen, though none of those linemen were drafted, which says something. Even if Bredeson and Onwenu are Harbaugh guys entering their second years, that right tackle spot is a MAJOR concern. Maybe they can find someone to at least be steady. Count “steady” as a win here. Wilton Speight will really need to be on his game. He’ll be throwing to some young receivers and will be protected by a not-particularly-experienced line, outside of Cole. Last year, the O-line and quarterback spots kept the team from being truly elite and contending for a title. This year, those spots will, again, dictate what the team can do.

Michigan faces four major tests this year: Florida in Dallas, at Wisconsin and Penn State, and a home tilt with Ohio State. Florida’s strengths match up well with Michigan’s weaknesses, Wisconsin and Penn State will be tough road tests, and Ohio State is Ohio State. However, Michigan’s strengths match up well with Florida’s weaknesses and about half of Florida’s team is suspended at this point, Wisconsin’s linebacker group is beginning to resemble Mr. Burns’ softball team, Penn State was kind of fluky last year, and Ohio State has to come into the Big House. So who knows? This could be a rough year as the team grows or Michigan could be a playoff team. This preview predicts 10-2.

Twitter: @KSchroeder_312

E-mail: schroeder.giig@gmail.com

 

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