Camp opened for Michigan on Friday with some weighty additions — added muscle and bulk to a number of players on the recently-released roster — some noticeable player absences and the strong possibility that Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh may go “submarine” with this camp, as he did his first season.
That many players have added weight comes as no surprise, considering they have spoken since before spring practice and into the summer about new strength coach Ben Herbert and the changes he has helped make in terms of their physiques and fitness as well as a strong focus on nutrition. Absent from the roster, though, are receiver Kekoa Crawford, running back Kareem Walker and tight end Tyrone Wheatley Jr., who decided Thursday to move on from Michigan.
It is anyone’s guess if there will be availability this preseason camp to talk to the Wolverines, their assistant coaches and Harbaugh. Before his first season, Harbaugh decided to go into a "submarine" — his word — so the players and coaches could work unencumbered.
Regardless, the Wolverines are now on the clock as they make preparations for the season that kicks off on Sept. 1 at Notre Dame.
Here are a few storylines to follow this camp:
Competition at quarterback
New season, new quarterback situation. Shea Patterson transferred from Ole Miss in December and then after a drawn-out eligibility waiver process, he was cleared by the NCAA to play this fall. He is the most experienced of the Michigan quarterbacks, including Brandon Peters, who started at the end of last season, redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey and freshman Joe Milton.
The preseason hype began weeks ago for Patterson, considered by some pundits to be in the early Heisman conversation. He made 10 starts at Ole Miss, including three as a freshman in 2016. A knee injury cut short his season last year. He had completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 2,259 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Peters was 57-of-108 last year for 672 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. Harbaugh said in Chicago during Big Ten media days that Patterson quickly acclimated to his new team. Patterson after the spring said he learned as much as he could in the 15 practices, and anticipated preseason camp will take him to the next level in the competition.
Sizing up the offensive line
Sure, the quarterback is the hot topic and seems to be year after year, but Michigan’s offensive line has to be a top priority this camp. This group has taken plenty of heat the last few seasons, most of the time for good reason. The line has lacked consistency and year to year that has been telling.
Last season, the group ranked poorly nationally in a couple of key categories: 91st in tackles for loss allowed and 110th in sacks allowed. Michigan has a couple spots set with Ben Bredeson starting his third season at left guard, and Cesar Ruiz moving in at center. Right guard will be an interesting competition between Michael Onwenu, who started last season before an injury — which gave Ruiz a chance to start as a freshman — and Stephen Spanellis.
The critical positions are the tackles. Jon Runyan Jr. and Juwann Bushell-Beatty appear to be the early favorites, with Bushell-Beatty on the left side. So much has been said in the offseason about new line coach Ed Warinner and how he has simplified things. The offensive line has eagerly embraced his coaching approach and style.
Don Brown is doing his thing
Defensive coordinator Don Brown has built a defense considered among the nation’s best, and it appears there will be more of the same this fall. Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich are back at the defensive ends, and it looks like Michael Dwumfour and Aubrey Solomon will be at the other spots. Lawrence Marshall and Bryan Mone offer some depth.
The linebackers will be led by Devin Bush Jr. and Khaleke Hudson at viper, and Josh Uche will try to equal or surpass the praise he received after spring practice.
The Wolverines led the country in pass defense, yielding an average of 150.1 yards a game last season. Cornerbacks Lavert Hill and David Long return as do safeties Josh Metellus and Tyree Kinnel, who could be in the running for defensive captain.
They’ve got skills
With what is expected to be more consistent play from the quarterback position and even the offensive line, the skill-position players are expected to carry their share. Karan Higdon and Chris Evans are a 1-2 punch that combined for 1,679 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2017 and they again will be the showcased running backs with Higdon leading the way.
There is talent at receiver. Tarik Black, who was the team’s leading receiver early last season as a freshman, is fully recovered from the foot injury that sidelined him most of the 2017 season. There are high expectations for Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones, along with Nico Collins and veteran Grant Perry. The receivers are working with a new position coach in Jim McElwain, who was Florida’s head coach last season.
Don’t forget the tight ends
Wheatley Jr., used primarily as a blocking tight end last year, decided a day before camp to leave the team. He missed most of spring ball with a broken foot but was healthy. Zach Gentry is a huge target and Sean McKeon has developed into a well-rounded tight end who has good hands. Both are poised for breakout years. This is a big group — literally a big group — including Nick Eubanks. Gentry is listed at 6-foot-8, 262 pounds, while McKeon is 6-5, 251 and Eubanks is 6-5, 252.