Early enrollees get a leg up as Josh Gattis evaluates Michigan offense

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Of Michigan’s freshman football players, quarterback J.J. McCarthy has garnered much of the attention because of his five-star ranking coming out of high school and the position he plays.

But of the 10 players who enrolled early at Michigan participating in spring practice, nine are offensive players, including highly rated running back Donovan Edwards. Earlier this year, Edwards helped lead West Bloomfield High School to a state championship.

Former West Bloomfield star Donovan Edwards is an early enrollee at Michigan.

“We’ve got the highest number of mid-year offensive enrollees we’ve ever had, which has provided us tremendous depth this spring,” offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said Wednesday in a video conference with reporters.

There are four early enrollee offensive linemen and also graduate transfer Willie Allen, two running backs, two receivers. Linebacker Junior Colson is the only defensive player to enroll early.

While Gattis didn’t spend much time getting detailed about the quarterbacks, he did share insights on the freshmen running backs, which also includes Tavierre Dunlap.

“Both of those guys have done really well,” Gattis said. “Obviously, Donovan has displayed some unique talent. It’s pretty evident the kind of talent (we saw) through his recruitment. Those types of plays have shown up on the field.

“He’s an exceptional player with explosive-play ability and he’s so versatile with everything that he does. He can run the ball, he can catch the ball. But then I also see it in Tavierre Dunlap. He’s a guy that really started coming on the last two or three practices and really improving and really just getting comfortable to the college game.”

Having spring practices is a big assist for freshmen offensive linemen. Tristan Bounds, Greg Crippen, Raheem Anderson and Giovanni El-Hadi are the early enrollee linemen and Allen joined the team this spring, as well.

“It’s been really beneficial for our mid-year offensive linemen,” Gattis said. “Just getting those guys in, getting their bodies in here, and getting developed and seeing those guys, they’re further along than any other freshmen offensive linemen could possibly be at this point.”

Andrel Anthony and Cristian Dixon are the receivers who enrolled early. Veteran receiver Ronnie Bell said last week that both have responded well in practices to coaching and learning the college game.

“All of us, every day, have things that we need to get better at as receivers, so I think it’s good that they see that coach Gattis is onto everybody in the receiving room,” Bell said last week, referring to Gattis as receivers coach. “And once he’s onto them, I feel like they do a good job of taking the coaching and answering, responding in practice with their play.”

Gattis says it’s too early to say just how much playing time the freshmen will see this fall, but he and head coach Jim Harbaugh have not been shy about playing freshmen.

“Everyone has done a really good job of getting acclimated, learning the system, just making plays when needed,” Gattis said. “They’re starting not to look like freshmen. Now, there’s still a long way to go. We’re at the halfway point, so we can’t hit that mid-year freshman wall.

“But just having those guys in here, being able to provide depth. The majority of those guys are running with our twos because of the bodies that we have. I think it’s been so important to their development to have them in here.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis