With spring practices underway and things heating up with Michigan football, what better way to start than by talking about potential starters?
The Wolverines have openings in several key positions heading into the 2021 season, including the quarterback, where all eyes will be on this spring and summer.
We’ll dive into it, including what JJ McCarthy needs to do to win the job this fall, options along the offensive line, and give a prediction to the running back – who is much younger and less experienced this time around.
Jim Harbaugh’s side are coming off a disappointing 2-4 mark in a shortened 2020 season that has seen Michigan cancel their last three games due to COVID-19 concerns. Among the games they have played, the Wolverines have fallen to the middle or bottom of the Big Ten in several key offensive categories: fifth in points per game (28.3), sixth in passing yards per game (250, 3), seventh for total yards per game (381.8) and offensive efficiency, and 11th for rushing yards per game (131.5).
It came after the Wolverines were unable to train in the spring and the Big Ten announced a postponement of fall sports, to turn the tide and start in late October.
This time, things start off more normally.
1. Cade McNamara
2. JJ McCarthy
3. Dan Villari
Others: Ren Hefley (walking), Andy Maddox (walking), Peyton Smith (walking), Max Wittwer (walking)
McNamara, a red shirt sophomore, is the only player on this list with college clichés. He started a game in 2020 after impressing the coaching staff late in an unbalanced loss to Wisconsin and helped lead the Wolverines to a triple overtime victory at Rutgers. That’s enough to give him an early advantage. But will that be enough? McCarthy is the five-star rookie who signed up early and racked up a lot of high school accolades and accolades, with some pointing to him as the future of the quarterback. Jim Harbaugh has shown a reluctance to play true first-year quarterbacks over the years, but to be fair, a lot of them have stepped into big (and experienced) quarterback venues. That’s not the case this year – potentially opening the door for McCarthy to win the starting position. Spring will be an important first step in the competition, especially for McCarthy who must acclimatize to the Michigan offensive and show that he can operate more effectively than McNamara (43 of 71, 425 yards, 4 TD). It’s a daunting task for a first-year player, but not unprecedented. This will be the competition to watch throughout the offseason.
1. Hassan Haskins
2. Blake Corum
3. Donovan Edwards OR Tavierre Dunlap
Others: Gaige Garcia, Danny Hughes (walking), Lucas Andrighetto (walking), Leon Franklin (walking), Nico Tiberia (walking), Isaiah Gash (walking)
An overcrowded position barely 12 months ago has cleared up following the departures of Zach Charbonnet (transfer) and Chris Evans (NFL draft). Michigan have consistently used four full-backs during their shortened 2020 season, but that approach is likely to change with new post coach Mike Hart and a drop in experience. Haskins, who will be a junior redshirt, led the group in rushing yards (375) and touchdowns (6) last year and is set to be the Wolverines’ No.1 option again in 2021. But offensive coordinator Josh Gattis has been keen to use the real newcomers Corum (26 carries, 77 yards, 2 touchdowns) early and often, setting him up for a bigger role this fall. Expect Michigan to build on both throughout the season.
Now where does that leave newcomers? Donovan Edwards and Tavierre Dunlap, both members of Michigan’s 2021 recruiting class, registered early and are participating in the spring practice. Like McCarthy, their ability to take offense and make plays will determine if and when they gain playing time in the fall. But the plan with Corum last year suggests the coaching staff are at least open to using them. That said, the four-way rotation didn’t seem to work very well last season, so maybe Michigan rolls with limited ability and chooses to redshirt the other.
1. Eric Everything
2. Luke Schoonmaker
3. Matthew Hibner
Others: Louis Hansen, Luke Buckman (walking), Hunter Neff (walking), Carter Selzer (walking)
Like the running back, the tight end is lighter than the others. All of them saw more targets than any other player in that position in 2020, capturing 12 passes for 82 yards, but also had their share of drops. The coaching staff love his 6-foot-4, 229-pound frame and athletic ability, so don’t expect them to shy away from him. Schoonmaker, who will be a junior redshirt this fall, has played 16 close games over the past two seasons, mostly in a blocking role. Expect this to continue.
Hibner has jacked up the 2020 season, while this year’s scholarship specialist Louis Hansen is not expected to arrive on campus until the summer. Barring a major surprise this spring, expect All and Schoonmaker to be the two main players in this post in the fall.
For subscribers: Scenarios to watch as MU football kicks off spring training
Left tackle: Ryan Hayes OR Karsen Barnhart, Trente Jones
Left guard: Chuck Filiaga OR Willie Allen, Trevor Keegan
Center: Andrew Vastardis, Reece Atteberry
Right Guard: Andrew Stueber OR Willie Allen, Trevor Keegan
Right tackle: Karsen Barnhart OR Willie Allen, Trente Jones
Others: Greg Crippen, Giovanni El-Hadi, Joel Honigford, Noah Stewart, Raheem Anderson, Zak Zinter, Nolan Rumler, Tristan Bounds, Jeffrey Persi, Kraig Correll (walking), Mica Gelb (walking), Luke Fisher (walking)), Mahdi Hazime (walking)
Michigan will have to juggle along the offensive line, but the good news is there’s plenty to work on. And the transfer of graduate Willie Allen is perhaps the biggest part of it all. The 6-foot-6, 343-pound Allen played 13 games in left tackle for Louisiana Tech in 2019, winning Conference USA honorable mentions, but his frame and athleticism could invite some movement indoors. The coaching staff were largely happy with Ryan Hayes’ tackle play last year and remain optimistic about Karsen Barnhart, who completed and started four games on left tackle. Allen will surely provide competition at both places, as well as guard, where Michigan sacks its two starters from last year, Chuck Filiaga (left) and Andrew Stueber (right). Stueber is a former tackle himself, suggesting he could go back if the need arises. Lots of moving parts here, but a good situation for new coach Sherrone Moore.
Entries: Ronnie Bell, Cornelius Johnson, Giles Jackson
Upcoming: Roman Wilson, AJ Henning, Mike Sainristil
Others: Andrel Anthony, Cristian Dixon, Xavier Worthy, Jake Thaw (walking), Christian Bartholomew (walking), Will Rolapp (walking), Matt Torrey (walking), Sam Staruch (walking), Matthew Harrison (walking)
Senior Ronnie Bell is a sure-fire lock to start after leading the team in receptions (26) and receiving yards (401) last year. But Josh Gattis got his wish to have more fellows, the number now being nine, which offers more competition within the group. Cornelius Johnson has emerged as an explosive away playmaker, averaging 15.88 yards per catch in 2020, setting up what could be a landmark year for him this fall. Giles Jackson’s speed inside makes him an obvious choice here, too, but he’s closely followed by young Roman Wilson and AJ Henning, who both got their feet wet as freshmen. . Xavier Worthy could be a factor, but his late start (he won’t start training until fall camp, unlike early registration) could slow him down.
Either way, there’s a lot of depth here and talent that matches what Gattis is schematically trying to do with offense. This will be year 3 for him, and coming from his second full recruiting cycle, results will be needed. And Michigan receivers are certainly heading in the right direction.
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