Ann Arbor — Right now, at this very moment, with plenty of preseason football camp remaining – which obviously means room for change — Michigan coach Brady Hoke continues to insist a freshman could start at left tackle.
Mason Cole, a 6-foot-5, 292-pound early enrollee who participated in spring camp and impressed coaches then, continues to draw notice and praise for his abilities and maturity as a player.
“Who knows what will happen. You ask me today,” Hoke said after practice Thursday, “Yeah, (Cole) would start. Now, we’re not at Aug. 30 yet.”
That’s the date of the Wolverines’ season-opener against Appalachian State, and, obviously, plenty can change between now and then. Michigan fans will get a chance to see Michigan scrimmage Saturday night beginning at 8 p.m. at Michigan Stadium, and, of course, see where Cole fits in the line. Nearly 30,000 free tickets were claimed by Wednesday night through online reservation.
Michigan scrimmaged on Wednesday, about 140 plays. The scrimmage on Saturday will help Hoke and his staff zero in on a starting offensive line, which, by most accounts, is the most suspect area of this team heading into the season.
Ben Braden appears to have locked down the job at right tackle, and Jack Miller has the edge over Graham Glasgow at center. Glasgow will sit out the season opener for disciplinary reasons, but even so, Miller has been impressive enough to win the job, Hoke said, although he added that Glasgow has had a good fall.
Kyle Kalis, penciled in as the starter at right guard, was held out of the scrimmage because of a back issue. Hoke said they want Kalis to take it easy, but before the injury, he was leading at the position. He seemed to suggest the injury is minor.
“From the point that we were before he got hurt, no question (he was ahead),” Hoke said of Kalis.
Erik Magnuson was thought to be the potential starter at left tackle, but he would start – if Michigan played today – at left guard.
It seems surprising that a freshman has garnered so much interest and praise, especially when coaches often say offensive linemen need to redshirt, but Hoke said Cole has earned it.
“As much as anything, it’s the person inside,” Hoke said when asked why Cole has moved ahead. “He’s smart. He works really hard. He doesn’t back down from anything or anybody. He’s more ready than most freshmen.”
Defensive lineman Chris Wormley said Thursday night that Cole is a tough lineman, despite his youth.
“Off the field you can tell he’s kind of a freshman, but on the field he’s a hard-nosed run blocker, and he’s actually a pretty good pass-setter, too," Wormley said. "Hopefully, he will continue to learn and continue to get better over the next four, five years and hopefully be an All-American offensive lineman.”
Receiver Devin Funchess also was held out of the scrimmage, but Hoke has not been more specific about his injury. He said earlier this week that Funchess was “bumped” up a bit.
Delano Hill, who suffered a broken jaw late in summer workouts, also was held out, but he’s doing more in practice, staying clear of non-contact drills.
Receiver Drake Harris remains out with a left hamstring issue. It was a hamstring that held him out of his senior season in high school, but that was on the right side.
“It’s going probably longer than he wants and we want,” Hoke said. “I think he’s getting closer to getting back out on the field, but we just got to keep working through it.”
Hoke is still looking for separation among the running backs, although he said he’s “excited” by what he saw in the scrimmage. The primary competitors are Drake Johnson, De’Veon Smith and Derrick Green.
“Drake Johnson really showed what he’s made of,” Hoke said. “Derrick had a good day. De’Veon probably (started) slower than we’d like. He’s such a prideful guy, tough guy, it bothered him, so he went out to prove something.”
Last Sunday during media day, Hoke said Johnson and Smith are neck and neck and Green is right behind them.
Peppers moving along
Freshman defensive back Jabrill Peppers certainly arrived at Michigan with plenty of expectations.
As Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison have said, the plan was to ease Peppers in at nickel.
“He got his feet wet and knows what’s going on at the nickel,” Hoke said.
Because he’s done such a solid job there, Peppers is branching out.
Hoke said Peppers played some snaps at corner on Thursday.
Oh captain, my captain
Hoke has been a bit evasive this week when asked about when his team will vote on captains.
He was asked again Thursday after practice.
“We’ve got a lot of great leaders on this team,” he said.
When asked if there’s a possibility they won’t have a vote, Hoke was coy.
“We’ll see,” he said.