Derrick Green prevailed over De'Veon Smith and Drake Johnson in a tight battle in camp to earn the No. 1 running back job. (David Guralnick / Detroit News)
Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News identifies five developments to follow on Michigan’s offense as the season gets underway.
Devin Gardner’s growth: Can Gardner be the leader he wants to be? With new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, Gardner feels like he’s moving toward becoming a more complete quarterback. That also means being more consistent and making smarter decisions with the ball. Nussmeier wants Gardner to focus on letting the offensive system work for him, and when there’s a breakdown, then let his athleticism kick in.
Will be offensive line be a problem? Depends on who you talk to. Michigan’s linemen believe they’re a solid group -- they get along, they have great chemistry, and while they’re on the younger side, they’ve got talent. But will that talent gel quickly this season and make this group effective, which it was not last season? Keep an eye on Ben Braden at right tackle and true freshman Mason Cole at left tackle.
One running back? Two? Three? Sophomores Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith are so close in stature and style, it’s hard to distinguish them. That’s why the competition heading into the season was so close and why it should be expected that both will get significant carries. Green is listed first on the depth chart heading into the opening game, but Nussmeier will not shy away from using multiple backs, so Justice Hayes and Drake Johnson also could be vital pieces of the running back puzzle.
Devin to Devin: Receiver Devin Funchess is going to provide a matchup problem for pretty much every defense Michigan faces. He also could be a great decoy to free other potential big-play receivers like Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson, who has shown loads of ability. But Funchess provides the big target Gardner needs, but he will have to overcome the issue of drops he had last season to fulfill expectations.
Crafty contributors: There has been plenty written about freshman receiver Freddy Canteen, an early enrollee who spills over with confidence and intends to be a big part of the offense this fall. He could be a bright spot for the Wolverines, as could Dennis Norfleet. Norfleet has had high expectations throughout his career in the return game, but with his speed and elusiveness, he could be an asset at slot receiver.