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Michigan disappointed but ready to start new season

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan's quarterbacks take the field for pregame warm-ups.

Miami Gardens, Fla. – Michigan’s season was put to bed with a disappointing 33-32 loss after a late comeback against Florida State in the Orange Bowl late Friday night.

The Wolverines and their veteran group had high hopes of a Big Ten title and a national playoff berth, but lost three of their final four games by a total of five points to finish 10-3.

And now the focus of the Michigan coaching staff is 2017.

“You’re going to wake up Saturday morning, and guess what?” Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown said last week during a pre-Orange Bowl news conference.

“It’s next season.”

Next season starts now for the Wolverines. It begins with winter conditioning, it continues with spring practice and the influx of early enrollee signees. And it’s also about how the Michigan staff puts a bow on the upcoming recruiting class.

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Starting quarterback Wilton Speight said after the Orange Bowl loss that the team’s performance and success next season will be based on what the players do now.

“(It can go) as far as we take it in terms of putting the work in in the offseason,” Speight said. “That starts (Saturday). I’m going to continue to do my best to recruit some of these high school kids I’m aware are trying to come here. Just get the best playmakers to come to Michigan. We have some unreal playmakers here. Now it’s their turn.”

Speight singled out young receivers Eddie McDoom and Kekoa Crawford, but also said more veteran receivers like Drake Harris and Moe Ways will make a charge now that Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh have moved on. Even Speight likely will be challenged by Brandon Peters, who redshirted this year.

Freshman defensive lineman Rashan Gary, the nation’s No. 1 player last year as a high school senior and saw significant playing time this season, will be counted on, along with Bryan Mone, Maurice Hurst and Chase Winovich, to replace a veteran defensive line.

Much has been made of the potential drop-off in a defense that ranked No. 2 nationally because of so many defensive departures.

“To me, how our class is, it’s not going to be a drop-off,” Gary said after the Orange Bowl. “This loss right here is only going to make us hungry going into the offseason and it’s only going to make us better.”

Bowl practices are a bonus for coaches and younger players, because they get more reps, and the coaches can see how they’ve progressed during the season and where they need more work.

It’s an assessment period, a bonus.

“You feel like you’ve got a jump on it,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said last week of prepping for next season through bowl practices. “And I feel like you’ve cheated the system that the young players are getting the opportunity to have spring practice before spring practice even starts. That process has begun.”

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Harbaugh said he has seen encouraging things from the younger players.

“And also there’s obvious improvements that need to be made,” he said. “That’s a process, and it gives you a better idea for, when spring practice starts, here’s the areas that we need to address with some of the younger players.”

The Wolverines will replace three starters on the offensive line with the departures of Ben Braden, Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson. Center Mason Cole, who just completed his first season at the position after starting his first two years at left tackle, said he feels comfortable at center. Freshman Ben Bredeson started the final eight games at left guard.

“It’s not easy to play in the offensive line,” said Tim Drevno, Michigan’s offensive coordinator and line coach. “I love the challenge. I love the rebuild. I love to put a new line out there, and I embrace it.”

Brown has signed a new five-year contract worth $1.4 million a year, according to a FoxSports report on Saturday.

It's a significant bump from the $880,000 he made last season and will make him the third-highest paid assistant in the country, based on USA Today's data base.

Brown was wistful while watching pre-game practices in Florida. But he was also encouraged.

“I’m looking, ‘That’s guy’s going to be gone, that guy’s going to be gone,’ and I’m not looking at it like, “Oh, what’s going to happen to us? Woe is me.’ It takes a little bit out of you because what an opportunity you’ve had to coach unbelievable (players).

“The way these guys have been role models for these younger guys There’s no fear in our younger guys. It’s like, ‘OK, it’s my turn. I’ve got to be ready to do my job.’ You can just see it. Some of these young guys, I’m really pleased with. Now, they haven’t been hit in the face yet …”

Brown has been especially impressed by cornerbacks Lavert Hill and David Long, safeties Khaleke Hudson and Josh Metellus, who played in the Orange Bowl in place of Jabrill Peppers who missed the game with a hamstring injury. Metellus was second on the team with six tackles, and he also picked up a blocked extra point and ran it back for two points.

Also attracting Brown’s notice has been safety Jordan Glasgow, linebacker Devin Gil, and Gary has impressed him all season, along with linebacker Devin Bush.

“This spring he’ll be in a starting role, and he’s off and running,” Brown said, referring to Bush.

Departing nose tackle Ryan Glasgow has said repeatedly that the young players are more advanced than he and his group were when they arrived at Michigan, by at least a year in terms of physical and mental maturity.

And that is why Brown is confident there won’t be a drop-off in 2017.

“I have no fear,” he said.

MICHIGAN 2017 SCHEDULE 

Sept. 2, Florida, at Arlington, Texas

Sept. 9, Cincinnati

Sept. 16, Air Force

Sept. 23, at Purdue

Oct. 7, Michigan State

Oct. 14, at Indiana

Oct. 21, at Penn State

Oct. 28, Rutgers

Nov. 4, Minnesota

Nov. 11, at Maryland

Nov. 18, at Wisconsin

Nov. 25, Ohio State