Michigan Football: A Position Preview

Now that July is over, teams across the country are reporting for fall camps. What does that mean? It means we can finally get talking about the upcoming college football season.

The Michigan Wolverines will have a ton of new names at the top of their depth chart this season. Maybe too many to have great success.

Michigan returns just one starter on its defense, linebacker Mike McCray. The offense loses the majority of their weapons with Jake Butt, Jehu Chesson, and Amara Darboh now all playing on Sundays, lost two starters along the offensive line, and redshirt junior quarterback Wilton Speight returns as well.

The defense is going to rely heavily on its defensive line. Senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst Jr. is widely considered one of the best interior linemen in the country. He was rated the best pass rushing defensive tackle by Pro Football Focus, and has progressed every year since he arrived in Ann Arbor. But now Hurst doesn’t have experienced guys next to him like Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton. He’ll have to rely on true sophomore Rashan Gary to be the ying to his yang. Gary was the consensus No. 1 overall recruit in the 2016 class across every major recruiting site. The potential is there, and according to a panel of ESPN experts he’s already better than Hurst. I have to see it on the field first, and a handful of freshman snaps doesn’t cut it.

Opposite of Gary will be junior Chase Winovich, who surprised everybody last season when he stepped in. Junior Bryan Mone will be anchoring the inside along side Hurst, and is also full of potential too. Injuries have plagued Mone’s career at Michigan, but if he stays healthy the Wolverines could have the best front four in all of college football.

Luiji Vilain and Aubrey Solomon are two true freshmen to keep an eye on as they should have a key part in the rotation on the defensive line according to reports.

At linebacker, McCray will man the middle while sophomore Devin Bush takes the outside. Bush saw some time on defense last year but made most of his impact on special teams with some bone crushing hits. Sophomore Khaleke Hudson will take over the coveted VIPER position. Let’s get this out of the way, he isn’t Jabrill Peppers so please don’t expect the young man to be Jabrill 2.0. He did show signs of being his own man and in the spring game. But, this will be a big test for defensive coordinator Don Brown to see how he can make any new VIPER impactful going forward.

The secondary will be the position group on defense that will have to be able to pull its own weight. There is absolutely no experience and so much uncertainty. Sophomores LaVert Hill and David Long will most likely be the starting cornerbacks while Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus will handle the safety positions. Hill and Long will have a daunting test early with Michigan facing Florida in week one. Hopefully the defensive front seven can ease them into the season.

While the front seven of Michigan’s defense could make or break the season, so can the offensive line.

Junior Grant Newsome will most likely miss the entire season due to the knee injury he suffered against Wisconsin. Mason Cole will likely move from center back to left tackle where he started his freshman season. Sophomore Ben Bredeson was excellent as a freshman last season at left guard, and should lock up that spot in fall camp. Sophomore Michael Onwenu will most likely handle right guard duties, while right tackle may not be solidified until game day.

Jon Runyan Jr. has a good shot at winning the battle, but true freshman Chuck Filiaga and Junior Juwann Bushell Beatty could also be in the mix. Center is another interesting dog fight. True freshman Ceasar Ruiz was the No. 1 center in last year’s recruiting class, and could get the starting job. Senior Patrick Kugler, however, has impressed in the spring, and head coach Jim Harbaugh could decide to go with another experienced body to balance youth.

Sophomore Chris Evans will likely start at running back as he showed some explosiveness last season. That guy can burn you in the blink of an eye. He just needs to put on a few pounds of muscle, and he will be good to go. Senior Ty Isaac and Junior Karan Higdon are back to provide some carries and help shoulder the load. I don’t think Isaac is great but he will bust off some nice runs every few games. I really like some of the work Higdon provided last year, with some offseason work he could be a real game changer this season.

Redshirt freshman Kareem Walker may get some carries this year too. One of the highest touted running backs coming out of high school two years ago has potential, but has yet to show it on the field. Khalid Hill is back to handle the fullback position. The senior led the team with ten rushing touchdowns last season and could easily repeat that number this season. Not only is Hill dangerous from two-yards out, but he’s a threat in the short passing game too.

Speaking of passing game, the young wide receiving core will have little to no time to grow up as well.

Kekoa Crawford and Eddie McDoom didn’t show us too much last season but enough to where we know they can make some plays. McDoom was the jet sweep specialist, and Crawford hauled in four passes and a touchdown. Highly touted freshmen Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones will get reps with the first team. If those two can find their stride early on, then Michigan’s offense might not take as big of step back as I expect.

Junior Ian Bunting is likely to start the season as the lead tight end. But Sophomore Tyrone Wheatley Jr. could change that early on. The son of Michigan legend Tyrone Wheatley has a lot of upside to him and could take over if Bunting doesn’t produce in the first few weeks. Helping the corps are two redshirt freshmen Nick Eubanks, and Sean McKeon who showed potential this spring when Michigan puts two tight ends on the field.

And your starting quarterback for the Wolverines will be Brandon…kidding. It’s going to be Wilton Speight more likely than not.

Unless redshirt freshman Brandon Peters absolutely steals the show in fall camp, I doubt Harbaugh will hand him the keys. At least not yet.

Speight did enough last season to show he isn’t terrible. I’m not a huge fan of Speight and I don’t think he can lead Michigan to anything more than what he has, but he clearly has room to grow. Part of me wants to see Peters get the starting nod because I feel like I know what Speight can do and it’s nothing great. But at the same time, throwing Peters out there for his first start against Florida in Dallas could be a disaster.

Michigan has so much youth and unknowns on the team I don’t know how great they can be. If you want to know how I think they’ll do check out my season preview.