ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan is almost there. Just a few tweaks here, a couple of adjustments there, and the No. 7-ranked Wolverines should be in good shape heading into the 2016 season.
While it hasn’t answered every question, training camp has tied up some of the loose ends. A good portion of the major components of the roster has been identified. Michigan knows who will play up front on both sides of the ball. That’s useful, especially with fewer than two weeks remaining until the season-opener Sept. 3 versus Hawaii in Ann Arbor.
Michigan knows who will catch passes, and it knows who will defend passes; it just doesn’t know who will throw passes.
This won’t be a complete depth-chart overview, rather just an educated guess as to who will start for the Wolverines, who have two quarterbacks capable of leading the charge to a national title. That’s according to offensive coordinator Tim Drevno, who said so Monday.
Michigan Offense 2016
Let’s start with the quarterback: Wilton Speight and John O’Korn remain locked in a heated competition for top reps. So far, no real indication has been given by the Wolverines — they all say it’s an even battle. Harbaugh called it one of the “best” No. 1 versus No. 2 competitions he’s ever seen as a head coach.
The O-line, though, has been set: Erik Magnuson at right tackle; Kyle Kalis at right guard; Mason Cole at center; Ben Braden at left guard; and either sophomore Grant Newsome or true freshman Ben Bredeson at left tackle.
The top three receivers? Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh and Grant Perry. The Wolverines need something more at the wideout position, having just bid farewell to Ahmir Mitchell, a promising true freshman who opted to transfer from Michigan rather than sitout an imposed suspension.
This is not the end of the world for Michigan, which just lost three pledges to decommitment and a kicker due to a transfer, but the loss of Mitchell puts a small dent in the pass-catching reserves.
Who’ll round out that group? Maurice Ways, a redshirt sophomore, has been mentioned during camp. However, he’s coming off a foot injury suffered during spring ball. Foot injuries take time to heal. Drake Harris, another redshirt sophomore, has reported in full health — he’s ready to take the field, and has been for months.
As for the running backs, it’s becoming clear that the top job will be handled by senior De’Veon Smith. Could this be the year he eclipses 1,000 yards? If so, it’d be the first time for a Michigan running back since 2011. Ty Isaac, a redshirt sophomore, appears to be on track and ready to move past personal issues that overshadowed his 2015 season. Drake Johnson, a fifth-year senior, has put a pair of ACL tears behind him — he’s somehow rebounded from being nearly flattened by a forklift while at track practice this past spring.
2016 could be the year the Wolverines’ backfield finally has everyone available for extended periods of time. Sure, the typical bumps and bruises will apply, but the relative health of the running backs doesn’t seem like such a looming question this year.
Jake Butt, a senior, will be the No. 1 tight end — as if that needed to be stated. Can you say All-American and first-round pick? Ian Bunting, a redshirt sophomore, should serve as an equally effective weapon.
According to Drevno, redshirt freshman Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. and redshirt junior Khalid Hill are great “in-line blocking” tight ends. True freshman Devin Asiasi has also garnered attention.
The fullback rotation should feature Henry Poggi, a fourth-year junior; Bobby Henderson, a fifth-year senior; and Michael Hirsch, a graduate transfer from Harvard.
Everything’s complete — except the quarterback picture.
Michigan Defense 2016
When thinking of the defensive line, imagine line shifts in hockey. Michigan has incredible depth up front, suggesting that it could have several variations of the starting line. So far, fifth-year seniors Ryan Glasgow and Chris Wormley appear to be two shoo-ins for first-team duties regardless of the game plan.
Redshirt junior Maurice Hurst, redshirt sophomore Bryan Mone, and senior Taco Charlton will also factor into the D-line, as well as freshman Rashan Gary, who has quickly adapted to a “learning curve,” according to defensive coordinator Don Brown.
“We feel good about a bunch of those guys,” Brown said of his linemen.
Per Brown, redshirt sophomore Noah Furbush could be the “real deal” as a linebacker. He’s already played tight end and defensive end, meaning that he knows his way around the field. Michigan has a dire need for linebackers, and the addition of Furbush should help ease the transition now that Desmond Morgan, James Ross and Joe Bolden have graduated.
Jabrill Peppers, a redshirt sophomore, will play closer to the line of scrimmage, giving the Wolverines a little extra pop on the blitz. Make no mistake — he’ll still be used as a defensive back in some packages. That’s unavoidable.
Now a senior, Ben Gedeon has earned a spot in the middle, affording him the opportunity to orchestrate the defense.
“The biggest thing with Ben Gedeon is that he’s had to go from, you know, being a contributing linebacker, playing some to, you know, it’s his show — not easy to do,” Brown said. “In fact, it’s hard to do. I think he’s done an outstanding job in that area.”
Watch out for senior Michael Wrobeleski, too. Despite a lack of in-game action, the fourth-year linebacker has impressed Brown with a hard-nosed attitude and work ethic.
He’s not the fastest, nor does he hit the hardest.
“But he just finds a way to help us, so I’m very happy with him,” said Brown, noting that redshirt junior Mike McCray has been “Steady Eddie” throughout practices as well. True freshmen Devin Bush and Josh Uche have “done well,” and Uche has acclimated to the SAM position much faster than anticipated.
Khaleke Hudson “has a chance to really help us … this year,” Brown said of the true freshman safety. David Long, another true freshman, has a “professional” demeanor to go along with “special” athletic ability. He could gain reps as a corner.
“He comes in, notebook’s open — taking notes,” Brown said. “Being sharp, doing all of those things.”
Of course, some guy named Jourdan Lewis — a preseason Thorpe candidate — will definitely man a cornerback position. So will fifth-year senior Jeremy Clark, who led the Wolverines with three interceptions in 2015.
In all likelihood, Peppers will swoop in every now and then as a safety/nickel. Seniors Dymonte Thomas and Channing Stribling have contributed for three years — they’re going to have a say as defensive backs this fall.
Senior Kenny Allen will kick and punt. Lewis and Peppers stand out as the top-two returners.
All the boxes have been checked — except quarterback. However, don’t expect to know his identity until right before Michigan’s season opener.