Orlando, Fla. – Michigan players said they wanted to win the Citrus Bowl to send off the seniors on a high note while feeding off that and taking a positive approach into winter conditioning.
Instead, they’ll have to hit the reset button.
The Wolverines are coming off their fourth straight bowl loss, this time 35-16 to Alabama in the New Year’s Day Citrus Bowl. And the bowl losses have followed losses to Ohio State to end the regular season, so not an ideal way to head into offseason workouts.
It’s not about looking back at a 9-4 season for the players, though. They want to focus on improving, and with the end of each season comes player departures and more opportunities for those who have been waiting their time for a chance to prove themselves and earn playing time.
The end of each season also occasionally comes with coaching departures. Safeties/special teams coordinator Chris Partridge, who had been at Michigan since 2015, Jim Harbaugh’s first season as head coach, has moved on to Ole Miss, it was announced Thursday.
The offseason will be about replacing Partridge and any other coaches who might move on, but it will mostly be about player personnel and shaping the team for the 2020 season. The most anticipated competition of the spring will be for starting quarterback. Shea Patterson started the last two seasons for the Wolverines after transferring from Ole Miss. He threw for 5,661 career yards and moved into seventh, ahead of Jim Harbaugh, among Michigan's all-time passing leaders.
But this is now the post-Patterson era and Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton are the main competitors.
“I know it was just me out there all season, Dylan played a little bit, but all those guys played a role and helped me on the sideline and in the quarterback room and feeding me positive energy throughout the game, and they did that all year,” Patterson said after the Citrus Bowl.
“They compete every single day, they’re getting the same reps as I am. I think they both have bright futures."
Both will be in their second year with offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, and while they have had much game experience, absorbing his system for the last season, along with freshman quarterback Cade McNamara, will make for an even more interesting spring competition.
The new starting quarterback will be working behind a fairly new offensive line that, depending on center Cesar Ruiz’s decision about the NFL, could be a major rebuilding project. If Ruiz opts to leave Michigan, Harbaugh and offensive line coach Ed Warinner will have to replace four starters.
Left tackle and two-time first-team All-Big Ten Jon Runyan, All-Big Ten first-team left guard Ben Bredeson and right tackle Michael Onwenu are all gone, and Stephen Spanellis announced after the bowl game that he will be a graduate transfer.
“There’s going to be a lot of talented guys coming up,” Runyan said, singling out freshmen and sophomores Karsen Barnhart, Trevor Keegan, Zach Carpenter, Nolan Rumler and Jack Stewart.
“Those guys have been doing well,” Runyan said recently. “I remember going back to my freshman year, it was really difficult for me to adjust. They’ve taken it in stride and doing a lot better than me when I was in their situation. I haven’t really told them that, but it’s true. I’m excited to see if Chuck (Filiaga) finally gets a chance, Ryan Hayes, (right tackle) Jalen (Mayfield) and see (Andrew) Stueber come back healthy from injury. The future is all in good hands.”
Michigan has some talented, fast receivers returning, including Ronnie Bell and Giles Jackson, who had 57 yards on four catches, including a 40-yarder, against Alabama and has been a bright spot in the kick return game. The futures of receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins are unclear, but tight end Nick Eubanks has decided to return, and that position has athleticism and physical play with sophomore Luke Schoonmaker and freshman Erick All.
Schoonmaker (6-6, 242) had two catches for 54 yards and a touchdown, and All (6-4, 229) had one catch for 10 yards. Both showed promise this season, and All’s upside was evident.
“His blocking ability (has improved),” Eubanks said of All. “He reminded me of myself, all about speed, coming in as a freshman being able to run routes good, catch the ball good. He has big hands, that’s one thing about that dude. He catches everything, too. Him being able to block is what’s going to get him on the field. We’ll see him a lot next year, too.”
There are some key departures on defense, including Josh Uche, Khaleke Hudson, Josh Metellus and Lavert Hill. But linebacker Cam McGrone, a redshirt freshman, became a starter when Josh Ross was injured in the Big Ten opener and said he sees the defense “getting better” next season.
“We have a bunch of dogs on the field this year, a bunch of seniors leaving, but we have a bunch of people coming back,” McGrone said after the Citrus Bowl. “This freshman class coming in is going to work their hardest to get on the field so I’m excited to see what we can do.”
With tackles Michael Dwumfour out recovering from surgery, and Carlo Kemp unable to play because of leg injuries, Chris Hinton and Jess Speight, who converted from offensive line, got the starts in the Citrus Bowl.
“Chris Hinton definitely showed what he’s capable of,” McGrone said. “We’ve got spring ball and summer camp coming up, so I can’t wait to see what he can do.”
And now that Hudson has played his last game at the viper position, it appears Michael Barrett and Anthony Solomon have been tabbed to take over.
“They’ve grown a lot,” Hudson said. “Their progress from where they started to where they are now is unbelievable. To see where they were to where they are now, a testament to how hard they work. The future is bright with them.”