Jim Harbaugh hopes his players use the narrow losses in 2016 as motivation to work harder in 2017.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh seems to relish the fact his Wolverines return only five starters from last year’s team, because he likes the young players who will have opportunities to be immediate contributors.
Harbaugh said he never has coached in a situation like this with so few returning starters. Michigan opens camp Monday in preparation for the season that kicks off Sept. 2 against Florida in Arlington, Texas.
“It is more exciting,” Harbaugh said of this new challenge with so much youth. “It feels that way knowing guys have the opportunity in front of them and seeing them be hungry and excited about that opportunity. That’s fun to coach.
“And they’re talented, too. Young and untalented? Bad. Young and talented? Good. It’s a good thing.”
Harbaugh knows from personal experience playing quarterback at Michigan what a charge it can be to finally have that opportunity to compete and earn a major role.
“When the starting quarterback graduated, Steve Smith, (I thought), ‘This is my opportunity. This is a chance. Gotta take advantage of it,’” Harbaugh said last week at Big Ten media days. “I see that for a lot of our guys. Many of them have played and started and some have been waiting for this opportunity.
“I’m excited about coaching guys that are really hungry. I remember that feeling of put-up-or-shut-up time. Got to get it done now. There’s a real sense of urgency here. We’re young. We’re too young to slow down.”
There’s so much young talent, including the 11 early-enrollee freshmen, that Harbaugh won’t single out anyone who has been particularly impressive.
Among the early enrollees expected to compete for playing time are receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black, center Cesar Ruiz, and defensive backs Ambry Thomas and Jaylen Kelly-Powell.
“There are so many right now,” he said. “Think about it, there are a lot of positions. That greaseboard’s been wiped completely clean. There are so many that have the opportunity to do that and I’m excited to watch it go down.”
He was so impressed by the early enrollees that he anticipates the rest of the incoming freshman class to be as equally head turning.
Harbaugh also thinks his sophomore class, led by defensive end Rashan Gary, will be a highlight. Running back Chris Evans, guard Michael Onwenu, defensive back Lavert Hill and linebacker Devin Bush Jr. are all sophomores who are expected to be starters.
Most coaches discuss the leap in growth from a player’s freshman year to his sophomore as the biggest he will take in college, and Harbaugh is a big believer in the concept.
“Very excited about them because everything they’re doing now they’ve already done, (and) they’re doing for a second time,” Harbaugh said.
The junior class is highlighted by tight end Tyrone Wheatley Jr., offensive lineman Jon Runyan and defensive back Keith Washington, and then there are the seniors like Maurice Hurst, Mike McCray, Mason Cole, Bryan Mone and redshirt junior Wilton Speight.
“Those guys in particular that were in games last year, they were there when we won nine straight games and everybody is high-fiving in the locker room after the game,” Harbaugh said. “And they were also there when we lost three out of our last four games, two by one point and another game by three points in overtime. They know what it feels like, and they like the feeling of the high-fiving better than the other.”
Hurst said there’s no concern about having only five returning starters.
“I’m not worried at all,” Hurst said. “I just have confidence in all the guys on our team. A lot of us have been sitting around waiting for our time to shine and be in the spotlight, and our time has come to be in that spotlight. I’m excited for it and I’m excited for a lot of guys who get an opportunity to play this year.”