How Michigan could reshuffle lineup to account for 3 Outback Bowl suspensions
ANN ARBOR -- Michigan began this season trying to overcome the loss of two suspended players, and now will end it trying to overcome three more.
And two are big ones.
The Wolverines announced Sunday that starting cornerback J.T. Floyd and Big Ten Punter of the Year Will Hagerup, as well as reserve linebacker Brandin Hawthorne, will not travel for the team's Outback Bowl matchup against South Carolina.
They violated undisclosed team rules, according to Michigan.
While Michigan can compensate for the loss of Hawthorne on special teams, replacing Floyd and Hagerup won't be so easy.
Floyd was a fifth-year senior who had started the better part of the past three seasons. He was an All-Big Ten honorable mention this year, and was gearing for a run at the NFL.
His 34 career starts helped balance the youth opposite him in Raymon Taylor, a first-year starter who was rushed into the lineup after Blake Countess was lost for the season and Courtney Avery faltered in his place.
Now, Michigan will have to reach further into its depth chart against South Carolina.
Floyd's likely replacement is Avery, a junior who has played mostly in situational packages in his career. He's been a fine nickel man, but struggled as an every-down corner when Michigan tried him out as Countess' initial replacement.
He quickly lost that position to Taylor.
South Carolina prefers to run, but can be expected to pass a little more now to gauge whether Avery can handle the job. He, after all, didn't handle such tests well early in the season.
That will put more pressure on safeties Jordan Kovacs and Thomas Gordon to cover for the corners.
Avery's assumed move means Michigan likely will turn to little-used sophomore Delonte Hollowell or true freshman Terry Richardson as the primary nickel back. Gordon also could slide down to fill that role, in which case true freshman Jarrod Wilson or junior Marvin Robinson would play free safety.
At punter, there's no question who is Hagerup's replacement. Sophomore Matt Wile filled in for him during a season-opening four-game suspension last year, then supplanted him in the Sugar Bowl after Hagerup struggled.
Wile averaged a respectable 41.6 yards on 17 punts last year, just 3.4 yards off Hagerup's pace this year, and already was the pooch-punt guy anyway.
But Hagerup showed this year he has an NFL leg, even if his off-the-field troubles persist. He's been suspended for at least one game in each of his first three seasons, and his chances could be running out.
Wile is a capable replacement. But he's not Hagerup.
And Avery isn't Floyd.
Michigan will have a more difficult time being victorious without them.
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