Fall camp preview: 10 key questions for Michigan
Here are 10 key questions for Michigan's football team with the start of fall camp right around the corner.
1. What is the quarterback situation?
Describing Michigan's quarterback situation is much easier than predicting how it will unfold. It seems, at least at this moment, it's a two-man race between Shane Morris and Jake Rudock. Morris is a junior who has the only game experience of Michigan's returning quarterbacks, and Rudock is a two-year starter at Iowa who chose to transfer for his graduate season after being demoted on the depth chart. The competition will extend to Wilton Speight, a redshirt freshman, and two true freshmen – Alex Malzone, who enrolled in January and participated in spring practice, and Zach Gentry. John O'Korn, a transfer from Houston, must sit out this fall but can practice with the team.
2. What about the running backs?
Derrick Green, a junior, missed the second half of last season after suffering a broken collarbone at Rutgers. In the regular-season finale against Ohio State, Drake Johnson, who had come on strong, tore an ACL for the second time in his career. Green is back and Johnson continues to make strides in his recovery, but the competition is deeper than those two. De'Veon Smith, also a junior, had a strong showing in the spring, and Ty Isaac, the transfer from USC who sat out last season, could be the most promising prospect. Isaac was limited during spring practice because of a leg injury, but the 6-foot-3, 240-pounder is the type of big back Jim Harbaugh likes to have running the ball.
3. Who's in and who's out in the secondary?
Jabrill Peppers, whose freshman season was cut short last fall because of leg injuries, is aware expectations of him are high. Peppers has moved to safety from corner and talked recently about how he and Harbaugh click in terms of work ethic and competitive nature. Jarrod Wilson, who has started three years at safety, is back, and Jourdan Lewis is expected to be a fixture at corner. Who will be the other corner? Wayne Lyons, a transfer from Stanford, is the likely starter after Blake Countess opted to transfer.
4. What will be UM's toughest game?
Hard to pick one. The opener at Utah is going to be tough and, perhaps, a tone-setter for the season. But the Michigan State game at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 17 carries a lot of weight, not only because it's an important East Division game but because the Spartans have been dominant, winning six of the last seven in the in-state rivalry. Michigan State hasn't played at Michigan since 2012; the atmosphere should be feisty.
5. Is there a trap game?
With games at Penn State and at home against Ohio State to finish the season, the Wolverines' game at Indiana on Nov. 14 could lose their interest. The Hoosiers have lost standout running back Tevin Coleman but return quarterback Nate Sudfeld from injury. Coach Kevin Wilson is looking to push the Hoosiers over the five-win mark this season and has seven home games, including Michigan, to do it. If the Hoosiers are as explosive as they've been in the passing game, this could be a tough one for the Wolverines if they're looking ahead.
6. What is Jim Harbaugh's biggest challenge?
Harbaugh played quarterback at Michigan and in the NFL and has an exacting nature when it comes to coaching that position. He has a bevy of quarterbacks with which to work this fall, although it appears it will come down to Shane Morris and Jake Rudock. Harbaugh's challenge will be to find a quarterback early and stick with it. This is not an easy schedule and will not afford him time to make chess moves. That would be ideal and certainly you want to get the backup some reps, but heading into the Big Ten season, if not the game before, he should have his starting quarterback and stick with him.
7. Which position unit will be UM's best?
Michigan's defense was underrated last season because the focus was on the offense and its turnover-prone ways. It is now in the hands of D.J. Durkin after four seasons under Greg Mattison, who is now the defensive line coach. The Wolverines' position of depth and experience is linebacker, even with the loss of Jake Ryan, voted the team's most valuable player last season. Seniors Joe Bolden, James Ross III and Desmond Morgan, who missed last season after playing the first game because of injury, are the mainstays of the position group. Bolden had 102 tackles last season. The Wolverines get added depth from Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray.
8. Are there any under-the-radar players who could surprise?
Bryan Mone hasn't exactly been under the radar. After all, it's tough to miss the 6-foot-4, 325-pound nose guard, but Mone should be more noticed this fall. Mone will anchor D.J. Durkin's defense and has plenty of experience after playing all last season. So much was expected of receiver Freddy Canteen last fall, especially after he had spent the previous spring talking about what an impact he would make. The receiver position is very undecided, and if ever Canteen were to make a move, it would be this fall. Fullback Joe Kerridge hasn't gone unnoticed during his career, but he will play more of a role in Harbaugh's offense.
9. Is there a true freshman who could turn into key player?
Brian Cole, rated four stars coming out of Saginaw Heritage and a top player in the state, should have an opportunity at receiver this fall. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Cole has quickness and speed and could find a spot in a position group that has had spotty performances. He enrolled early and participated in spring practice, and it was evident that based on the so-so outings of the receivers, Cole can make his mark.
10. What will have to happen for UM to win the Big Ten championship?
Easy – Ohio State and Michigan State will have to suddenly become bad teams. That isn't going to happen, of course. For Michigan to find a way into the championship game, it will have to go unbeaten in the Big Ten. That's not going to happen. Many "experts" consider this a seven-win team and obviously that's not going to cut it when you're talking about a Big Ten championship, especially with the defending national champion Ohio State and Michigan State in the mix.