Michigan Football is set to begin year three of the Brady Hoke era and things are beginning to stabilize in Ann Arbor. Hoke and his staff have been outstanding on the recruiting trail and we’ve seen small doses of those players making significant contributions in the last two seasons. Now in year three of his regime, the Wolverines will start to look more like the team Brady Hoke has envisioned since he moved into the big office in Schembechler Hall.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some key questions that need answers before Michigan kicks off against Central Michigan on August 31st.
Back up quarterback
When Denard Robinson was knocked out of the Nebraska game last year, it was a devastating blow to the Wolverines Big Ten title hopes. However, it also was blessing in disguise for the 2013 Wolverines. That’s because Devin Gardner finally got his chance to be the quarterback at Michigan. He responded by totaling 18 touchdowns in five games and was twice named the Big Ten Player of the Week.
There is no doubt that Gardner is the man for Michigan at quarterback this year. Where things get fuzzy is on the depth chart at the back up quarterback position. Russell Bellomy figured to be occupying that spot until he went down with a torn ACL in spring practice. That leaves Brady Hoke with three walk on QBs and one, albeit highly touted, freshman QB – Shane Morris.
In a perfect world, Morris would have the chance to redshirt. Now, he will be thrust into the back up role right away and will likely burn his redshirt long before the Wolverines begin conference play.
Answer: Shane Morris will be the back up and he will toss a few touchdown passes this year.
Interior of the offensive line
Taylor Lewan’s decision to return for his 5th season of eligibility was a huge boost for Michigan’s Big Ten title hopes. Lewan will pair with fellow 5th year senior, Michael Schofield to give the Wolverines a dominant set of tackles.
However, the Wolverines will be featuring three first time starters along the interior of the offensive line. Those three starters figure to be; left guard Kyle Kalis, center Jack Miller, right guard Ben Braden. The reviews on Kalis have been outstanding, he plays with a real nasty streak and is going to be a force. Braden’s future may be at tackle, but he is versatile enough to play guard and talented enough to hold off some outstanding young linemen that are vying for playing time. Miller might be the key and he’s been pushed hard by the coaches to get ready for this season.
Answer: No worries here. Michigan is loaded with talented young linemen and that means there is intense competition for playing time, which brings out the best in all the players. By the end of the season, any concerns about the O-line will be a distant memory.
Replacing Jake Ryan
Last year, Jake Ryan led Michigan in tackles (88), tackles for loss (16), sacks (4.5) and forced fumbles (4). He is a guy that opposing coaches had to account for on every snap. Losing him flat out stinks. The good news is, that he is realistically on pace to return to action in October.
The coaches have moved Brennen Beyer to SAM and he will compete with Cam Gordon for the starting nod in Ryan’s absence. Gordon is a 5th year senior with 98 career tackles. Beyer started eight games at defensive end last season and tallied 19 tackles. Neither of these guys are as explosive as Ryan, but both are good football players.
Even before Ryan’s injury, Greg Mattison had made a point of talking about Gordon and lamented the fact that he did not play him more last season.
Answer: Gordon and Beyer will hold down the fort until Ryan returns. A mid-October return means Ryan would be able to play in Michigan’s last 5 games; at Michigan State, vs Nebraska, at Northwestern, at Iowa and vs Ohio State.