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Posted on Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Michigan football over-under: How many true freshmen see the field?

By Kyle Meinke

Thumbnail image for BLAKE-COUNTESS.JPG

Cornerback Blake Countess, right, broke into the starting lineup last year midway through the season. How many true freshmen will have a similar opportunity next year?

Melanie Maxwell |

The Michigan football team posted the worst defensive season in school history in 2010, and was in dire need of a savior -- and got one in Greg Mattison, the architect of last season's revival.

But Michigan also benefited from an infusion of talented true freshmen, including full-time starters such as Blake Countess at cornerback and Desmond Morgan at weak-side linebacker.

Reserve Frank Clark provided athleticism and depth at defensive end, Brennen Beyer blossomed into a reliable option at strong-side linebacker and Raymon Taylor factored in at defensive back in nickel packages.

Add in Matt Wile's role on kickoffs and punts, Thomas Rawls' spot carries at tailback and contributions from Delonte Hollowell and Taylor on special teams, and that makes eight true freshmen who played last season.

It's clear the 2011 class played a key support role in the 11-win season -- and the 2012 class is considered by recruiting analysts to be even stronger. But with the Wolverines returning 15 starters, it's possible they simply won't need to rely on so many newcomers.

So, how many play? We debate:

Over-under: Michigan will play six true freshmen in 2012

Kyle Meinke: Michigan returns 15 starters, sure. But it also has several points of weakness, most notably on the lines, where depth is so tenuous it prevented the Wolverines from holding a true spring scrimmage.

They're going to rely on several freshmen to get through the season, just as they always do. They played eight last year, 10 in 2010, an incredible 13 in 2009 and eight more in 2008.

Michigan Football Over-Under

This is part of a 14-day series featuring 2012 Michigan football-related debate from sports writers Kyle Meinke and Nick Baumgardner.

Wednesday: Can the Michigan offense maintain its production?

Thursday: Can the Michigan defense be as stout in 2012?

Friday: How many wins will Michigan collect away from home?

Saturday: Can Denard Robinson reduce his interceptions into single digits?

Sunday: Can Michigan's revamped defensive line keep up its sack production?

Monday: How many catches will quarterback Devin Gardner record?

Today: How many true freshmen will play for this veteran-laden team?

Wednesday: How many uniform combinations will Michigan use?

Yes, those were turbulent times with high turnover rates, which required freshman to step in -- sometimes even before they were ready. But go back to 2006, when Michigan returned 14 starters, and it still played seven true freshman.

Big-time football is all about winning now. So if a freshman can play, he's seeing the field. It's not even hard to finger which spots this Michigan team will employ the young guys.

Against their better wishes, the Wolverines probably will rely on at least one freshman on both lines, where they sustained five of their seven losses. Who actually sees the field won't become clear until fall camp, although Kyle Kalis at left guard and Ondre Pipkins at defensive tackle seem like good bets.

From there, Michigan must still account for losing its top two receivers, Junior Hemingway (graduation) and Darryl Stonum (dismissal). It's a good bet either freshman Amarah Darboh (my pick) or Jehu Chesson sees time.

Ditto for tight end, where Michigan has lost starters Kevin Koger and Steve Watson. Complicating matters is the position was not highly valued in recruiting under Rich Rodriguez, so the roster is barren here. Expect to see at least A.J. Williams play as a blocking tight end, and perhaps Devin Funchess as well as a pass-catcher.

And who is going to take Stonum's spot at kick returner? It could be a returner such as Vincent Smith (although he struggled there last year) or Countess or Jeremy Gallon, but coach Brady Hoke hinted in the spring that freshman speedster Dennis Norfleet could be a factor here -- and in fact, might have been brought in for that very purpose.

Prediction: That's six freshmen who have obvious places on the field, and that doesn't account for any of the three early enrollees who were on campus this spring -- it would be unsurprising if one cracked the lineup, especially linebacker Joe Bolden -- nor injuries, which are always part of the game. Take the over.


Nick Baumgardner: Hoke proved last season he really isn't afraid of burning redshirts if kids can actually play right away.

Michigan probably could have survived without giving a few carries here and there to Rawls, it could have likely gotten by without the help of Taylor at corner and it certainly would have been fine if Hoke opted to preserve Hollowell's redshirt.

But, those guys proved enough to Hoke on the practice field to warrant playing time, so they played.

We can't completely predict who comes out of nowhere to catch Hoke's eye, but we can predict need.

Michigan will likely need help on defensive line, and Pipkins appears ready to play. Wide receiver is thin, so I could make the argument you'll see Darboh or Chesson -- but not both.

Tight end is a weak spot, too, so Michigan may go with either Williams (perhaps more likely for blocking purposes) or Funchess. But again, not both. Three.

Kalis? Well, in a perfect world, Michigan redshirts him. Offensive linemen rarely play as true rookies unless absolutely necessary. Remember, Jake Long redshirted. But, I think Michigan will likely need help up front -- and all early returns say Kalis could give it to them. Four.

And then there are the early enrollees -- Jarrod Wilson, Joe Bolden and Kaleb Ringer. I really have a hard time seeing Michigan getting into desperation mode in the defensive backfield, no matter how good Wilson is. The Wolverines bring back everything in the secondary.

At linebacker? Again, I could see one playing (Bolden or Ringer), but really not both. That'd seem like a waste.

Prediction: Hoke isn't afraid to play freshmen, but he's likely not going to be wasteful, either. He played a ton of young talent last season that only developed as the year went on. That talent figures to develop this season, leading me to believe you'll see a bit (not a lot) less true freshmen action in 2012. I'll go under.


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 3:50 a.m.

Those who stay will be champions.


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 9:22 a.m.

It could be "over": we heard (endlessly) about player shortages from Rodriguez. Was that all excuse-making or was the team really that short of solid talent? If true, then Hoke will have to burn more red shirts to fill the holes, you simply can't fill a roster in one recruiting season. I'm still concerned about the O-line and any "not big" players (God forbid, like Denard) could be taken out by injury. So right there are possible openings for freshmen.


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 11:34 p.m.

I say 13


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 6:37 p.m.

This will be decided more by injuries than the talent among the incoming class. If you look at recruiting you'll see that Hoke and co are taking a multi year view seeking to build a team where, say three years down the road, they'll be starting primarily 4 & 5 year players with a few 5* sophomores and juniors, with the starters backed up by 3 & 4 year players. Alabama is a good example of this today. Hoke will start the best overall team, and if some of them are freshmen those guys will play. But, barring injuries, he is not going to burn a red shirt if he thinks that the program overall will be stronger to keep them off the field.


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 4:38 p.m.

Over But not all because of need, but building experience and depth. There's enough upperclassmen program experienced, not field experienced though to help add rotation depth. You never know who may blossom from that group either. He's not a frosh, but whatever happened to Gary Yerden, the 6-6, 320#, 2010/11 HS State weight lifting champ that was a preferred walk-on last year from Parchment HS? Is he a factor on either line?

Terry Star21

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 4:08 p.m.

I agree with Kyle; over. This is a talented class and the most important factor is these are Brady Hokes' kids (Michigan fit) from the start - and the initial attitude Hoke installs will be the difference. Add that to the fact that in Hoke, Mattison and Borges - you have the three best coaches in the nation on the nations best team, training and preparing these young charges. A Michigan win. The greatest thing is; a big group of these kids will prove themselves, get better every year and give all of us thrills and enjoyment for four years. MgoBlueForTiM....four years of heaven...


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 7:17 p.m.

That's a SAD statement Terry!!! Bo would have loved to have a QB like DR when he was running the Option. Isn't Bo MICHIGAN?


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 6:30 p.m.

funny...kind of sounds like you're railing against all these great Seniors/Juniors 'cause they were recruited by RichRod. and here I thought you liked that group.

Gabe Callender

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 2:29 p.m.

They havent played less then 6 freshman since 2006. What would make Baumgardner think otherwise. Kalis plays then starts later in the year Pipkins-cant keep him off the field and Wormley is close behind but a little more athletic Williams and Funchess- one of them will be starting come October/November Norfleet-special team returner Bolden- is battling for the starting spot now atleast one receiver (probably Darboh) will see the field here and there possibly everyone of the Cass tech/DCC boys will see significant time too


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 1:56 p.m.

What, no mention of Chris Wormley? Physically, he's ready to help on the DL and I could also see Ben Braden adding much needed depth on the OL. I think Jarrod Wilson is too good not to get time, his play-making ability will be needed at S. Pipkin will certainly be playing at the Nose. Bolden will be a starter at some point in the season, he'll be hard to keep off the field. AJ Williams blocking ability at TE will be like another OL and Funchess will stretch the field. Norfleet and 1 of the receivers will see time, so with Hoke promising to play kids if they are good enough, I don't see how it can't be OVER 6. This last class was very talented in areas of need.


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 1:53 p.m.

My favorite new freshman Michigan player for 2012 is Sione Houma. To my amazement he hasn't received a higher evaluation from the college football sports writers. I greatly enjoyed watching his Utah Highland high school football highlights on video. Hopefully he'll get sufficient carries to prove how valuable he truly can be. This young man has a lot of heart and talent.

Rabid Wolverine

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 1:38 p.m.

I think it'll be over. I could bet on our 2 receivers coming in to see time as well as 1 on each of the D and O line. Add a D-end or corner in there and it is safe to say we could hit the over pretty easily.


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 1:03 p.m.

One area I think we will see a huge improvement is Norfleet if they start him as the kick returner. You can't coach what that kids got.


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 12:34 p.m.

With such a talented class in 2012 and even more talent coming in 2013 I think Hoke will play everyone he needs to fill the gaps and add rotation. Kalis and another guy on the O line. Maybe two D lineman (not Pipkin- he's overweight), one of the receivers, Joe Bolden, and Dennis Norfleet on kick returns. Still 2 or 3 years away from rolling over NFL players every year like Alabama. I'll take seven and the over.


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 11:43 a.m.

Not much to add here...looks like you guys pretty much covered it!