Ann Arbor — For two players who have yet to play a down for Michigan, Daxton Hill and Zach Charbonnet certainly have been discussed plenty. Expectations are soaring for them to figure significantly for the Wolverines at their respective positions.
Hill, the Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year rated five stars and the gem of Michigan’s recruiting class, very well could move into a starting spot at safety opposite Josh Metellus. Defensive coordinator Don Brown has kept an eye on the 6-foot, 190-pounder during the first week of camp that began last Friday.
With Tyree Kinnel, a co-captain last season, gone, there is competition for that safety spot and Hill is in the thick of it. Brown said it’s too early to say who fits where, but Metellus is “playing at a high level” and Brad Hawkins, Brown said, is “neck and neck." J’Marick Woods is improved, and then there’s Hill.
“Daxton Hill is a guy on our radar and has practiced extremely well,” Brown said Wednesday while meeting with reporters. “But again, he’s a true, true, true freshman five practices in. But we’re feeling pretty good about how the top end of that safety group looks.”
One of the potential holdups for Hill making an early splash is the fact the freshmen go through the bridge program taking summer classes while also participating in camp. Sometimes classes and camp overlap, and the players miss time on the field.
Still, Hill’s potential makes him hard to overlook as an early contributor.
Brown said Hill reminds him of James Ihedigbo, who played for him at UMass in 2006 and had a lengthy NFL career that included a stop with the Lions (2014-2015).
“(Hill is) kind of a unique guy,” Brown said. “I had a safety (Ihedigbo) he’s gonna end up playing like. I think he’s that kind of guy. Probably not quite as tall, but very long-limbed, can run, can rush, can really explode on contact. I see that in him, but obviously (it is early in his career at Michigan).”
On offense, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Charbonnet, healthy now after having a minor knee procedure earlier this year after he enrolled at Michigan, is expected to also be an impact player this fall, helping a position group that returns only two players with experience — Tru Wilson and Christian Turner, who rushed for 364 and 99 yards, respectively, last season.
Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis offers an update on the offense through the early stages of camp Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
New offensive coordinator Josh Gattis seemed unfazed he has an inexperienced group. In fact, he said with five backs in the running, it’s the “deepest position” for the offense.
Gattis said Wilson has improved and Turner is “explosive." Ben VanSumeren and Hassan Haskins, who both moved over from defense, also have been impressive, Gattis said, through the early days of camp. But then there’s Charbonnet, who rushed for 4,741 yards and 62 touchdowns in high school.
“He’s got really good vision and body control,” Gattis said.
Charbonnet has impressed Gattis in a number of ways since he arrived on campus. And he has impressed his new teammates by being what Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has called a weight room “stalker." Harbaugh mentioned Charbonnet in the same breath as Ben Mason, who is notorious for being a weight room mainstay.
“When you look at Zach, his maturity stands out right away,” Gattis said. “He’s such a mature kid, and you see his work ethic. He’s always in the weight room, he’s always in the coaches’ offices. Very smart, cerebral player. Even though he missed all of spring, he’s made no mistakes this camp.”
Gattis briefly worried about how difficult it would be for someone like Charbonnet, who missed spring practice and the first practices devoted to the new offense, to make the transition to camp. He credited running backs coach Jay Harbaugh for having someone like the freshman back take “mental reps."
That approach benefited Charbonnet as he made the move to on-field reps.
“Zach has matured, first and foremost,” Gattis said. “Obviously, he has great size. He’s got really good feet and hips. He can make some special cuts. But when you look at him from a personal standpoint, his maturity stands out first and foremost. Just a great kid. So we’re really excited about him.”