Michigan football: Top three positional battles

If you’re looking for a story that talks about the “quarterback battle” between Devin Gardner and Shane Morris of the Michigan football team, look elsewhere. Starting with the opener against Appalachian State University, Gardner will be the Wolverines’ primary signal-caller, barring injuries. Those suggesting a guy who has played one collegiate game should start over a fifth-year senior that at times literally carried the Michigan offense on his back are crazy.

There are a few other positions that remain in question as the Wolverines look forward to the start of the 2014 football season.

Running back

It is no secret that Michigan struggled to run the ball effectively last year. This wasn’t a result of a lack of talent in the backfield, as Michigan boasts a few powerful backs. Among the candidates to run the ball, sophomores Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith appear to be the front-runners. The duo shared the load of carries behind primary starter Fitzgerald Toussaint a season ago, so it should be interesting to see how things shake out this year.

michigan football

Derrick Green

Derrick Green entered Ann Arbor as the top-rated running back in that year’s recruiting class. He didn’t quite live up to the hype in year one on campus, as Michigan’s entire rushing offense was held to a minimum. Green was the Wolverines third-leading rusher, where he carried the ball 83 times for 270 yards and a pair of scores. His 3.3 yards per carry isn’t exactly what Michigan was hoping for out of the 225-pounder.

Green had a breakout game against Northwestern, where he led the team with 19 carries and 79 yards. A lot will be expected of Green in 2014 as his role should be a much bigger one than a year ago.

De’Veon Smith had seven carries for 12 yards in the opener last year against Central Michigan. He didn’t get another carry in the next eight games for the Wolverines. Smith also ran the ball effectively against Northwestern, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. His biggest game came against rival Ohio State, where he ran the ball seven times for 57 yards, including a 38-yard scamper.

The duo of Green and Smith give Michigan a couple of big-bodied backs that could provide a much-needed punch in an offense that lacked an effective running game a year ago. Much of this lack of production running the ball could also be attributed to the offensive line play, but there is still room for improvement in the backfield.

Wide receiver

The Wolverines have a lot to replace at this position following the graduation of Jeremy Gallon. Gallon accounted for 42% of Michigan’s receiving yards last season. Returners Devin Funchess and Jehu Chesson will be two of the primary targets early on for Gardner. However, Michigan could get some production from some new faces this season, and they will need it.

Amara Darboh missed all of 2013 with a foot injury and was believed to start in his first year in Ann Arbor. He will be back and healthy, so it will be good to see how the redshirt sophomore can do this season.

Incoming freshmen Drake Harris and Freddy Canteen will be looked to catch some passes in their first year at Michigan. Harris missed all of his senior season at Grand Rapids Christian High School, so the Wolverines are hopeful he can be ready to go by the opener on August 30. Canteen has already impressed so far in spring practice and is rumored to be the fastest player on this young Michigan team. He could play a role as a slot receiver early on this season.

[Michigan Football: Meet Drake Harris and Freddy Canteen]

Other guys that could see time are speedster Dennis Norfleet, Csont’e York and Da’Mario Jones.

Secondary

The Michigan defense was inconsistent last year, and the young secondary struggled at times against some less-than-spectacular opponents. More will be expected of them this year as everyone will have a year of experience under their belts.

Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor should be the two primary corners for Michigan this year, but there are other guys that could mix in at the other secondary positions. Dymonte Thomas, a second-year safety could finally make his splash in the Wolverines defense. He started last season with a bang when he blocked a punt, but he should see more time defensively this season. Delonte Hollowell, Jarrod Wilson, Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis all saw time last year, but each of them had their share of troubles.

Arguably one of the best players in the 2014 recruiting class is Jabrill Peppers. Peppers is expected to make a nearly instant impact, potentially on both sides of the ball for the Wolverines. He might not start right away, but the freshman safety should see time early in the season for Michigan.

This year’s Michigan football team will be young once again and expectations (like always) will be high. Coming off a disappointing 7-6 season, the Wolverines are looking to rebound in the face of a tough Big Ten schedule that features road games against rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. It should be an interesting and hopefully fun season for Michigan this year.

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