Bowl season is vital time for Michigan youngsters
Ann Arbor -- While Michigan continues to prepare for the Orange Bowl, the Wolverines are very much looking toward the future.
That’s typically the case during bowl practices, but for Michigan, this has more meaning with so many veteran players departing.
Michigan will play Florida State on Dec. 30 in the Orange Bowl, trying to reach 11 wins this season. But they will practice with an eye on the Sept. 2 season opener against Florida at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“It’s huge for development,” Chris Wormley, a defensive lineman who will be playing his final game for Michigan, said of the bowl practices. “A lot of the freshman and sophomores who haven’t been playing much are going to get a lot of practice reps and a lot of reps that are going to mean something when we watch film.
“For us, it helps (defensive line) coach Greg Mattison watching the young D-linemen play and just helping them. It’s essentially another spring ball for them. So this ‘Christmas Camp’ is going to be exciting for them and a huge step for them to take going into next season.”
Michigan’s defensive and offensive lines will be slightly overhauled because of the departure of so many veterans, but no one seems worried about a drop-off.
“Everyone that’s going to be here has been in that defense for a year now, so it won’t be a fall off, Wormley said, adding it’s important to note defensive coordinator Don Brown will be entering his second season.
Wormley insists Maurice Hurst will return – “You heard it here first,” he said, smiling – along with Bryan Mone, Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary.
“There’s a lot of young talent,” said nose tackle Ryan Glasgow, who also will be playing his final game for Michigan. “There’s going to be a lot of player development that has to go on during this bowl prep season, spring ball and camp to prevent a drop-off.
“But in the second year in Coach Brown’s defense, going forward with a lot of the young talent we have, some of the guys they’re bringing in now, we did not look like that as freshman at all in any way, shape or form. They’re probably a solid year further ahead. I’d say physically, mentally at least a year ahead of most of us when we were that age. I remember not being like that at all when I was 18.”
Wormley rattled off the names of several young players he thinks will have big impacts next season. He said safeties Khaleke Hudson and Josh Metellus, linebackers Josh Uche and Carlo Kemp, and linemen Michael Dwumfour and Ron Johnson are players to watch.
Wormley said Johnson is “a guy who has gotten a lot better throughout the season.”
“I’m leaving out a bunch of people on the defense, but those are some I believe can develop into great players,” Wormley said. “With the player development we have now and the coaching staff we have, I think it’s definitely possibly there will not be a drop-off next year.
“Devin Bush is going to be a great player. Chase Winovich -- he gets limited snaps, but when he’s out there he makes plays. He’s very productive. I’m very excited to see what he can do. And Rashan as an athlete is something like you never really see. He’s just a freak athlete, great get-off, already one of the strongest D-linemen.”
Glasgow has been impressed with what he’s seen already in bowl practices.
“They’re coming out and playing real physical, they’re coming out and hitting and competing,” Glasgow said of the younger defensive players. “It’s really great to see. They’re really competing and they want to be in the eight-man rotation on D-line with four people departing. They’re all really hungry and they know we’re bringing a lot of recruits in, so the competition is going to be fierce come camp, so why not get a leg up now?”
Competition among the offensive linemen should be intense with starters Ben Braden, Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson departing. Center Mason Cole has said he will test the NFL waters but is expected to return, and freshman Ben Bredeson, who made six starts at left guard, will be back. It is unclear what the future holds for Grant Newsome, who started at left tackle before suffering a knee injury that kept him in the hospital for more than a month.
Michigan has recruited a handful of linemen to the 2017 class, including No. 1 center Cesar Ruiz, who announced his commitment Monday, and there are young linemen already on the roster, such as Michael Onwenu, Jon Runyan Jr., Stephen Spanellis, Nolan Ulizio and Juwann Bushell-Beatty, who made a start this season filling in for Newsome.
Kalis said the first few weeks of bowl practices have been devoted to the younger players, while the veterans work on fundamentals. He has no doubt Michigan’s offensive line will be strong next season despite the youth.
“I think they’re gonna be a force to be reckoned with,” Kalis said. “Bredeson is only going to be better. Mike (Onwenu) is just a huge dude. Once Mike figures it out, he’s going to be unreal. If Mason comes back, he’s going to be the best lineman. They have a good foundation going into it.”
Onwenu is a mammoth of a player at 6-3 and somewhere in the neighborhood of 380 pounds. While he played on both sides of the ball this season as a freshman, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has said he will play guard going forward.
“I’d love to see him at D-line,” Glasgow said, smiling. “He’s a tank. When we go ones versus twos, I think that’s like the worst part of practice for me -- inside drills ones versus twos, because I have to try and bury my head into his chest plate to get any movement. (Recently) they ran a zone scheme and I teed off as hard as I could, got under him, didn’t move him an inch. Effectively got blocked.
“I’d say guard is definitely his best position.”
Glasgow said now is the time for younger players at all positions to begin making a move for the 2017 season.
“Player development this time is critical,” Glasgow said. “Now is the time you definitely get a jump on it. Work on your technique. For (Onwenu) and for the young offensive linemen and guys who want to compete for jobs, this is the time they get to show it.”